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A healthy break at the beach after the lockdown

Italo Farnetani is a professor of paediatrics and the man behind the 2008 launch of a research project used to award Green Flags to child-friendly beaches. There is no doubt in his mind what parents should do as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted: take their children to the seaside.

A beach holiday can lay the foundations for enhanced resilience while also offering the best possible relief from the stress that has built up over the long weeks of the lockdown, especially among youngsters.

Professor Farnetani, what sort of impact is the lockdown having on children?

It is extremely stressful for children, because their lives have suddenly been turned upside down. The most significant aspects in all of this are unquestionably the lack of opportunities to socialize and a serious risk of overweight and obesity because children are leading more sedentary lifestyles and not getting enough exercise.

What role can a trip to the beach play in all of this?

Spending time at the seaside will be the best way to get over the physical and mental stress caused by the lockdown.

Even if there are still social distancing rules in place, the beach will be the ideal place to unwind, get moving and dive into a world of essential linguistic and sensory stimulation. On top of all of this, there are the benefits offered by natural light.

But there are bound to be restrictions in place

Of course, but that certainly doesn’t mean that there’s no point going on holiday! Even if people have to keep one or two metres apart from each other, beaches will be busy places that offer invaluable input in terms of communication, sharing and language. Children always manage to find a way to have fun and learn.

Families will be physically and mentally exhausted by the time they get to go on holiday

We’re all being asked to make sacrifices that are totally justified, but also very stressful. Holidays can lay the foundations for enhanced resilience and bring families closer together by offering them the chance to have carefree fun together. This is one of the factors that we take into account when we award Green Flags to beaches: resorts are rewarded for meeting technical requirements and providing services that relieve pressure on parents, because when they’re able to unwind, their children will be happy, too.

Does a lack of exercise put children at risk?

It puts us all at risk. Paediatricians like me have always campaigned against sedentary behaviour in children, increases in which can lead to all sorts of issues, such as loss of muscle tone. This is another area in which time at the beach can really help: it encourages children to play and move about naturally in the sunshine and the open air.

So are the health benefits of sunshine even more important than usual this year?

When you go out in the sun, your body makes vitamin D. This helps it to absorb calcium, which is essential for the development of healthy bones. The peak of bone mass formation comes at the age of 18, so it’s plain to see just how important it is for children to spend time in the sunshine.

The more skin you expose, the more vitamin D you can make and store for the winter months, so take all of the necessary precautions and then let them play happily in their swimming costumes on the sand.

Do the same rules apply at all times?

Despite what some people say, there is no right or wrong time to go out in the sunshine. Let your children spend as much time as possible having fun on the beach. Make sure you buy sunscreen that caters specifically to your children’s needs, preferably from a pharmacy. Apply it at least once every three hours, or more often if your children perspire a lot or go in the water. Alternate between time in the sun and time in the shape to keep their body temperature down and make sure they drink often so that they stay properly hydrated.

Finally, let your children have fun. In spite of everything, they’ll find a way to adapt and enjoy themselves while obeying the rules.

Prof. Italo Farnetani

Contracted professor at the University of Milan-Bicocca -paediatrician, journalist and communications expert.

His biography is also published in Who’s Who in the World (New Providence,NJ – USA: Marquis Who’s Who editors;2010 )

Autor of : Birth through the ages (2007).