Children’s Physical Activity Plummeted During COVID-19

School children at break time playing on climbing frame
As activity levels decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus of activity switched from organized sports to individualized sports such as biking and walking.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had many negative effects on children’s health including creating widespread physical inactivity. The percentage of children who met the recommended daily activity level (≥60 min/d) dropped dramatically from 69% pre-pandemic to 31% in the spring of 2020 and 38% in the fall of 2020, according to findings from a poster presented virtually at the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners Annual Meeting (NAPNAP 2021).

“The COVID-19 pandemic restructured the lives of children and adolescents worldwide. Social distancing, school closures, and stay-at-home orders created large barriers for engagement in daily exercise,” reported Alyssa Plisic, RN, BSN, a doctorate student at the University of San Diego, Hahn School of Nursing.  As the overall activity levels decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus of activity switched from organized sports to more individualized sports such as biking and walking.

To evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical activity in youth aged 8 to 17 years, the author developed a self-report instrument that compared current levels of physical activity with pre- and early-pandemic levels. Health care providers reviewed the respondent answers during visits, while providing education, support, and short-term activity goals. An exercise journal was given to participants to promote physical literacy and increase activity.

The vast majority of participants (85%) noted that their physical activity decreased as a result of the pandemic. In the group that completed an exercise journal, 50% met daily activity recommendations; 75% said the journal helped them reach daily physical activity goals. Compared to prepandemic, time in organized sports decreased by 84% in spring 2020, and 51% in fall 2020; time spent biking and walking decreased by 15% in spring 2020 but showed a 63% increase in fall 2020.

A program that encourages more physical activity in children can reduce obesity rates, as well as rates of cardiovascular disease, depression, and anxiety. The program designed by Ms Plisic has the potential to lower risk of all-cause mortality by 33%.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also reinforced the need for clinicians to ask children about the physical activity levels and to encourage innovative, healthy behaviors that can be performed safely during a pandemic, concluded Ms Plisic.


Plisic A. Increasing physical activity in children and adolescents during the covid-19 pandemic. Poster presented virtually at: NAPNAP 2021; March 24-27, 2021. EP-PI1.

This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor