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European Championships gold medallist Jo Pavey's six tips for keeping kids active in lockdown

By Features Reporter

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Jacob and Emily join their mum Jo Pavey with some exercises in the garden. Picture: Gavin Pavey/PA
Jacob and Emily join their mum Jo Pavey with some exercises in the garden. Picture: Gavin Pavey/PA

With schools closed and families living in lockdown, keeping kids entertained and active is proving tricky for lots of parents.

Long distance runner Jo Pavey herself has two children, Jacob (10) and Emily (6), so she knows the challenge well. The 46-year-old says keeping them active has huge benefits, though, and she's on a mission to help other families stay fit and healthy during the pandemic.

Pavey famously won the 10,000 metre gold medal at the 2014 European Championships just 10 months after giving birth to her daughter – making her the oldest female European champion in history at the age of 40 – and she's not done yet. Pavey is aiming for Tokyo 2021, her sixth Games (a feat only achieved by one other British athlete), when she'll be fast approaching her 48th birthday.

But you don't have to be an Olympian to get your kids off the sofa. Here's her advice.

1. Do it as a family

"I think with this lockdown, we all realise how beneficial keeping active is, and family bonding is really important as well," Pavey says. "If we can use the time to engage with our children and make the commitment to keep active as a family, it's going to be good for our physical and mental health."

She has teemed up with Fit For Sport to launch the Activity Challenge – it's 10 minutes of exercise at 10am every Monday. There are three exercises – star jumps, bouncing and catching a ball and six-metre shuttle runs – and how long you do each for is dependant on your children's ages. Scores can be recorded on the website and you're awarded a bronze, silver or gold for your efforts.

"It's just about having a go really, it doesn't matter if it's not a good score. You can do it in a small space – not everyone has a garden – and it's free," Pavey says. Most importantly, it's something the whole family can do together.

2. Make it fun

"Because we're not able to do some of the activities we'd normally do as family, we've enjoyed finding new ideas. You have to try and make it fun – you need exercise to be a positive experience, rather than something you're pushing them to do," she says.

"If you can get out for a walk [staying locally and adhering to social distancing guidelines, of course] maybe encourage them to run a bit with you. I think they would have fun trying to run a bit with their parents – maybe pick out landmarks and see if you can run to the next lamppost or the next tree. My son Jacob has been doing short runs with me, we don't keep running continuously, we'll stop and have a chat.

Jo Pavey competing in the Rio Olympics 10,000 metres. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA
Jo Pavey competing in the Rio Olympics 10,000 metres. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

"I did a ladder running challenge with my children; I made a ladder out of an old bamboo cane and practised doing running type drills over it.

"But it doesn't have to be formal exercise, it can be a simple game of tag or stuck in the mud, or throwing and catching, bat and ball – anything to get hand-eye co-ordination going. For a really young child they could jump around like a frog or a kangaroo!"

3. Set an example

"As a parent it's a challenging time, but being active yourself as a parent, you get the opportunity to be a good role model to your children, by keeping fit yourself and also by engaging with your children.

"Show how much you enjoy it," she says. "I, for one, want to improve my agility and hope in the future to keep competing so having these kid-type activities and playing games in the garden, it helps to make me feel young again, which definitely helps at this stage in my career."

4. Do it for their mental health

"I notice how [the kids] feel happier, they enjoy that it gives them a bit of a buzz and even with the pressures we all have now of trying to homeschool, it definitely makes it easier for them to concentrate," Pavey says.

"I feel like they're more ready [to do school work] when they've been out and done some activity. It gives them a boost, you can tell it keeps them feeling better about themselves and feeling good."

5. Be positive

How children experience exercise at a young age can have a lifelong impact on how they feel about it as an adult.

Jo Pavey gets her children involved with some indoor exercise. Picture: Gavin Pavey/PA
Jo Pavey gets her children involved with some indoor exercise. Picture: Gavin Pavey/PA

"When they're showing enthusiasm, give them praise," Pavey says, "even if they're not doing it fantastically or in a skilful way, give them praise and positive feedback for the fact that they're being enthusiastic. No way should you ever make being active a negative experience – never criticise them.

"And hopefully they can take those [positive] feelings with them as they grow and develop, and keep that healthy lifestyle going."

6. Involve them in the decision making

Any parent knows kids are more likely to want to do something if it was their idea, rather than yours.

"Maybe they could come up with some ideas of what the family could do to keep active together. Or give them choices of what they want to do," Pavey suggests.

"Wait until they're ready, maybe sometimes they don't feel like doing something in particular. And bear in mind it's also OK to have a day where everyone feels a bit lazy, that's natural as well!"

She hopes families noticing the benefits of being active together can keep it going too – "Hopefully [we can all] lay down those habits going forward when the whole situation of the lockdown is eventually over."

To take part in Fit For Sport's Activity Challenge register at activitychallenge.co.uk

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