Guidelines urge adults to cap screen time, sedentary behaviour during pandemic
Canadians grapple with increased anxiety, stress through COVID-19
By Cassandra Szklarski
New fitness guidelines urge adults to limit screen time and sedentary behaviour while finding ways to stay active, even amid the pandemic.
Public health and academic experts say it’s more important than ever to get enough sleep and exercise as COVID-19 upends daily routines, finances, social lives and individual health.
Several groups, including the Public Health Agency of Canada and ParticipACTION, have combined forces to release 24-hour movement guidelines that spell out how people aged 18 to 64 should split their time on various levels of activities, hoping detailed tips can make it easier to increase healthy activities and decrease poor habits.
Guideline chair Robert Ross, who is also a Queen’s University kinesiology professor, acknowledges the pandemic has made it harder for some people to remain active but says any activity is better than none.
“How you spend your entire day matters. So if you are physically active, good for you. If you can’t be physically active but you’re decreasing sedentary time and you’re getting good quality sleep, good for you,” says Ross, encouraging Canadians to adapt the guidelines to their circumstances.
“It’s providing Canadians options to improve their health.”
The breakdown devotes seven to nine hours to sleep and caps sedentary time to eight hours — including no more than three hours of recreational screen time.
Those older than 65 should get seven to eight hours of sleep.
Need to get active
The rest of the day should be spent being active, much of which can be “light physical activities” such as standing and casual walking.
However, adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity, and work on muscle strength at least twice a week. Those older than 65 should also work on improving their balance.
Ross says the guidelines are especially timely as many Canadians grapple with increased anxiety and stress wrought by the pandemic, noting that a balanced lifestyle can also improve depression, dementia, cognition and quality of life.
At the same time, regular movement lowers risk of death, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, weight gain, improved bone health and several cancers.
“Two very strong determinants of COVID that have been identified early are obesity and Type 2 diabetes,” says Ross.
“If you follow these guidelines, all that (you do) will mitigate the very risk factors that are associated with COVID.”
Adults get ‘D’ grade
Along with PHAC and ParticipACTION, the guidelines were developed by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, Queen’s University, and a network of researchers and stakeholders from across Canada.
While past guidelines have focused on 24-hour schedules for younger groups including babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and older children, this guideline is the first to look at adults.
Even before COVID-19, adults received a grade of “D” for overall physical activity according to the ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Adults.
Ross suspected many Canadians are even less active now, but notes the tips don’t require money, equipment or services to achieve, suggesting improved fitness can come from activities as simple as a neighbourhood walk, household chores, going up and down stairs and breaking up the time spent seated.
“Not all Canadians (who) view the guidelines will be able, capable, or willing to do any one of them everyday,” he acknowledges.
“One day you just couldn’t be as physically active as you want, but you reduced your sedentary time. Perfect. You couldn’t reduce your sedentary time so you … lengthen your walk around the block, or you walk your dog a little longer…. It’s not just one guideline. It’s an integration of movement behaviours that coexist in the whole day.”