Experts Say Proper Exercise And Nutrition Is Vital To Successful Academic Outcomes During COVID


Experts say that kids can get the proper amount of physical activity each day by engaging in natural activities. Photo/istockphoto/fizkes

Word in Black is a collaborative of ten of the nation’s leading Black publishers that frames the narrative and fosters solutions for racial inequities in America.

By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium

As the Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the world there is one demographic that does not get much attention but are very vital to the well-being of our families and our community and that is our children.

While some parents are busy trying to balance working from home and helping their kids navigate online learning, they can often overlook the proper amount of exercise and nutrition that is vital to the development and growth of their children.

Without schools providing the necessary outlets of support, exercise and nutrition parents are not only acting as teachers, counselors and tutors but PE instructors and nutritionist as well in order to keep their children active and healthy both spiritually and physically.

“When a change in the environment changes the status quo and adults are also disorganized by what is happening, children are really adversely affected by those changes,” says Dr. Ben Johnson, a clinical psychologist with extensive experience working with children. “When these things happen children look to adults to see how adults react to find their own way to respond.”

According to experts from UW Medicine, “exercise is an important part of keeping children healthy. Encouraging healthy lifestyles in kids and teens is important for when they grow old. Habits that are learned in childhood are more likely to stay with the child into adulthood. Some changes in lifestyle can be harder to make the older a person becomes. The best way to promote healthy lifestyles is for the whole family to be involved.”

However, due to COVID the challenge for many parents is allocating time needed for kids to get the proper amount of daily activity and incorporating that into a daily schedule.

Dr. Shaquita Bell, a pediatrician at the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, believes that children, even as active as they naturally are, can utilize natural activities in order to get the exercise that they need.

“I do think that it is important [for kids to utilize] their natural activity,” says Dr. Bell. “So, if you know there is something they like to do then capitalize on that. For example, some kids like hide and seek because they love to pretend you can’t hear them laughing in the closet, that is a great way to engage and improve their sense of wonder, their imagination while also getting in some exercise.”

Anna Rabel, a PE teacher at South Shore Middle School, agrees and says that it is important for kids to get some sort of physical activity in each day.

“They need to get at least 20 minutes a day, even if that means going out and getting a walk in,” says Rabel. “It’s important to get their blood pumping and their heart rates up and that improves school performance, it helps students get sleep and it reduces anxiety and moods.”

According to Rabel, nutrition adds to the vitality of a child’s health just as much, if not more than, exercise, and unfortunately some parents are going to have to rethink nutrition as a part of the daily planner.

Arastede Hairston, a licensed nutritionist, says that, from a health perspective, nutrition dictates how a person’s day will begin.

“Breakfast which translates to ‘a break from fasting’ is like fuel to a car,” says Hairston. “If you do not provide fuel for the body it is starting your child’s day on an empty tank.”

“A donut is not a good idea because the sugar can cause a major breakdown in energy in the second half of a school day and diminishes a child’s ability to remain focused on learning,” added Hairston. “So, I suggest foods like oatmeal which is a complex carbohydrate and can provide the necessary energy to last throughout the day.”

In addition, Hairston says a healthy diet is important, particularly now, when it comes to the strength of a child’s immune system. She also believes that letting your children help with selecting and prepping their food for the day will help improve their consumption.

“We are talking about a major virus attacking the immune system. If we are really working on boosting our immune systems through nutrition that means lots of fruits and vegetables,” says Hairston. “Especially vegetables because that is where your vitamins and minerals come from and for children when you give them the opportunity to participant in the food prep that’s going to help them get to know the vegetables more and appreciate them more because they saw them at the grocery store, they chopped them up and ate them.”

Because of the adversity society is dealing with children must look to the examples in front of them as they learn to navigate anxiety, stress, mood swings and other potential disruption that can affect their effectiveness in the classroom.

Dr. Johnson says there are a number of things that parents can do in order to help children manage the chaos that they are witnessing and help them feel safe and secure.

“First, examine your own assumption or expectations about what is going on so that you’re clear about what you are passing on to [your kids],” says Johnson. “Second, normalize the day as much as possible. People are used to a routine, when that routine is compromised by tragic events it is not normal anymore, [so] normalize your day as much as possible.”

“Thirdly, engage with your children,” advises Dr. Johnson. “The parent doesn’t have to do dinner by themselves, involved your children in a way that encourages them. Ask their thoughts and opinions, do not wait until something automatically happens or assume that you know.”

“I say this because, at this time, more than any other time, African American youth are committing suicide at a higher rate than their White counterparts and the parents are saying “I didn’t know,” Johnson continued. “So, engage with children!”

With COVID’s ever presence, while it is essential to maintain normalcy through routine, good exercising and eating habits, it is equally important for families to stay vigilant with the recommended COVID protocols set forth by state and local health officials when they are engaging in these activities like social distancing while playing, wearing a mask when outside, and frequently washing hands when your kids complete activities and tasks.

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