COVID-19 has had a huge impact in countries all over the world: people have lost their jobs, families have been unable to see each other and millions of people have become sick or sadly lost their lives. The impact has been particularly hard on our children, many of whom spent the summer term stuck indoors at home having to do their schoolwork on a computer with the help of their parents or carers. However, reports have suggested that a fifth of children had done little or no home learning, meaning their education and self-esteem would be taking a backwards step. A survey conducted by the NHS during lockdown also revealed that one in six children now have a probable mental health disorder, compared to one in nine just three years ago, showing the importance of this issue being addressed.
The closure of schools has had a knock-on effect with regards to children’s physical activity levels. Pupils were no longer doing P.E. or The Daily Mile and after school sports clubs were closed. This has meant that large numbers of children across the UK were doing little-to-no exercise.
Following the closure of schools, we launched The Daily Mile At Home, an initiative to get families moving to support their physical and mental health. The Daily Mile At Home allowed families to exercise together in the fresh air, whilst still sticking to the government guidelines. It also meant that busy mums, dads and carers, who were potentially juggling working from home, home learning and household chores, only had to take 15 minutes out of their day to exercise with their children. Whilst this doesn’t seem like a lot, 15 minutes of running or jogging has been proven to have a positive impact on children’s fitness as well as having a positive impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing.
When lockdown number 1 ended and the UK started to open up, we all began to learn of the underlying issues that the pandemic had caused. When children went back to school in September their teachers started to see what a lack of classroom learning had meant for their students. YouGov and Children In Need reported that 49% of children returned to school with increased anxiety and 73% of children returned to school with low physical fitness - I can’t help but see that the two are linked.
Whilst children are now back in the classroom, the school day looks incredibly different from normal. To reduce physical contact and minimise the spread of the virus, children are grouped in bubbles and asked to limit their social interactions at work and at play. Whilst these measures are understandable and important to help stop the spread of Covid-19, it has meant that children may miss out on some of the general day to day movement that normally happens at school, as well as lacking some social interactions as they are not allowed to socialise with friends that are not in their bubble.
This is why The Daily Mile is so important. There has arguably never been a more important time to enable children to be active because not only does this improve their physical health, it keeps them mentally well. The Daily Mile is free, inclusive and completely safe under government guidelines. Children of all ages and abilities can take part as well as those with disabilities. It can be done safely at school in class bubbles, and it can be done safely at home with parents or guardians.
Walking to school is also a great way to build physical activity into your day. It helps children feel happier, healthier and they arrive at school feeling refreshed, fit and ready to learn. Walking to, or from school helps to build positive behaviours as well as giving children the opportunity to talk to their parents and carers about their day. We have seen that traffic is up 30% now schools are back, so even if you can’t walk the full way to school, try and park 10 minutes away and walk the rest.
With Lockdown 2 in full swing across the majority of the UK, it’s imperative that we encourage children to stay physically active, whilst following the government guidelines, as this will improve their mental and physical health, now and for the future.
Elaine Wyllie MBE, Founder of The Daily Mile