Some reflections on the role of physical activities in times of a pandemic

For most people around the world including us, the past years/months of pandemic translated into a significant contraction of social but also physical space(s). Our daily life and routine came to happen mainly in our homes – which became de facto also our working spaces. For some of us, the daily homework commute and the usual adrenaline of having to rush for (trying to) get on board of the last train or bus, is a far-gone memory. As spaces for work and/or socialization have reduced, we also had to compromise with physical activity of any kind – being it walking, running, dancing, cycling or swimming. Yet, doing sport is essential for many aspects of our lives, even more in exceptionally stressful times such as a global pandemic.

Physical wellbeing  

As for the morning run to catch the public transportation which will get us to the office, sports activities also contribute to providing us with our (daily) doses of adrenaline. The corporal experience of being out on the field running is also an encounter with our body and its un/known limits. While, during our day, we often focus on the many professional challenges and the household tasks ahead, sports activities allow us to reconnect with our bodies (and minds) and ask ourselves how do we feel, if we will be able to do the training session, or if we feel a bit tired or overweight, etc. And, yes, regardless of whether we’ll be out of breath after 10 minutes of slow training, or we will not be able to reach the 800 meters goal at the swimming pool, it is comforting to realize that being committed to trying is already a success – even more during the cold, wet and dark Belgian winter!


As the pandemic began, the imposition of social distancing also implied not being able to practice group activities, undermining the possibility to strengthen networks of relationships which were carefully constructed over time – as we went for instance to the classes of dance, yoga, capoeira, gym, and countless other activities. Although these connections did not include necessarily any good/deep friendship relation, these networks offered opportunities to meet with people from different professional or cultural backgrounds, to create specific bonds by sharing a talent, collaborating on an art project or simply sharing the experience of muscular pain during a squat session. While we longed for interactions with our close family and friends, we also renounced places where parts of our personalities could be fully expressed. While digital tools allow some sort of socialisation, we realised how much-shared experiences which are located in a given time and space are somehow much more meaningful for bonding encounters to happen.

Emotional wellbeing

While some of us still wonder why people run behind a ball – or, even worse, why they run WITHOUT a ball to follow – we can agree that beyond the fatigue doing sport is also about producing ourselves some degree of pleasure. In the end, especially when amatorial, doing sport activity is about taking time for yourself and acknowledging the needs of your body and mind. Breaking the flow of daily thoughts for focusing just on the physical effort is of great benefit for our minds. As in our work and everyday life we find ourselves often dealing with multiple tasks at the same time, to switch back to a single task/single moment can provide us with the opportunity to re-centre our ‘selves’. Pleasure can also come from throwing ourselves into the ‘unknown’ when facing a new dance choreography or a particularly intense training session that leave the muscles sore for days. There, next to pleasure comes a feeling of victory and achievement which can be beneficial, especially when struggling with a project or a difficult paper: after all, no victory is too small! As for many things in life, sport or practice nurture feelings of endurance, determination and patience but it can be sometimes challenging and lead to frustration and even failure. Even if we do not always manage to practice as much as we want and we (often) set goals that remain out of our reach, it is important to cultivate projects that keep us balanced and fulfilled.

Dr. Giacomo Orsini concluded his doctoral studies at the Department of Sociology of the University of Essex in 2016. While his most recent research is concerned with family reunification and domestic violence in Belgium, his studies concentrate on the everyday governance of migration and the multiplication of physical and non-physical boundaries of exclusion/inclusion, governmentality, and the social (re)production of ‘otherness’. He assists Ilse in the coordination of the ChildMove project and within this research, he focuses on various aspects related to the psychosocial wellbeing of unaccompanied refugee minors.

Océane Uzureau is a French researcher holding a Masters degree in Migration Studies from the University of Poitiers. She previously worked for the Observatory of the Migration of Minors (University of Poitiers/ MIGRINTER – CNRS) on action research projects with unaccompanied minors newly arrived in France, analyzing access to protective services and local inclusion with local NGOs and institutions. She is currently a PhD candidate in Educational Sciences at Ghent University (CESSMIR) and a member of the ChildMove team. In this project, her research interests focus on the analysis of mobility patterns of unaccompanied minors travelling toward and within Europe, and on social support from NGOs and volunteers available for migrants on the move.