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Why is Physical Activity important?

Being physically active is so important for your child’s development, health and well-being and is a really important habit to develop from when they are little. This will promote a healthy lifestyle as your child grows and moves into adulthood. Research tells us that children who do not exercise are more likely to become inactive adults, this will increase the risk of developing major illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. This is why it is so important we encourage regular exercise and movement to become a normal part of daily life from a young age.

Children and adults are much less active than they used to be, this is due to our modern lifestyles and increasing use of technology. There is loads of evidence around the potential benefits of your child maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle, this is not only through improving their general fitness and health but also positively influencing their mental health and cognitive development. Some of these benefits include:

  • Development of strong, healthy bones, joints and muscles
  • Development of healthy heart and lungs
  • Improvement of overall health, ensures your child is physically fit and helps to maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduces the risk of major illness  
  • Development of co-ordination and control of movement
  • Supports development of concentration and learning
  • Boosts confidence, mood and self-esteem 
  • Helps to develop social skills and provides an opportunity to socialise
  • Improved sleep and energy levels
  • Reduces stress to support mental and emotional well-being
  • May help to promote healthier lifestyle choices as your child grows (i.e. avoidance of smoking)

The amount of recommended physical activity, movement and exercise your child should be completing depends on their age:

Babies (0-1):Physical activity should be encouraged as early as possible to establish healthy habits as your child grows. Physical activity at this age is any movement your child is able to make or that you can support them with. Once your baby is able to move on their own, encourage them to be as active as possible throughout the day. Remember to always ensure a safe environment and keep them supervised at all times. 

Try to always ensure a balance between activity and rest by minimising where possible long periods of time in the same position, i.e. sat in car seats, high chair or prams. The use of baby walkers and bouncers is not advised as they do not help to support your child’s development, please click on this link for more information about this.

Toddlers (1-2):Toddlers should be encouraged to be physically active every day for at least 180 minutes (3 hours). This should be spread throughout the day, including playing outdoors.

It is important that your child is not inactive for long periods of time across the day, except for when they are sleeping. Try therefore to minimise time sat still in a push chair, watching the TV or using a computer.

Young Children (pre-school):Your child should be active for at least a total of 180 minutes (three hours) a day; remember that this does not have to be all at the same time so can be spread across their day. Physical activity at this age can be unstructured play activities or more structured, age appropriate exercise classes and groups.

It is important that your child is not inactive for long periods of time across the day, except for when they are sleeping. Try therefore to minimise time sat still in a push chair, watching the TV or using a computer.

Children and Young People (5-18):If your child is aged over 5, it is recommended that they complete an average of 60 minutes of physical activity per day across the week. This should be a mix of aerobic exercise (activity that increases your child’s heart rate and breathing rate) and exercises to build muscle and bone strength, and should be a mix of moderate to vigorous intensity…they should make your child breathe a little bit faster and feel warmer. It is important that your child is not inactive for long periods of time across the day and they should try to reduce time spent sitting or lying down. 

Remember, getting Children and young people to exercise doesn’t have to involve structured activities or groups, there are many ways to build activity into your child, and your families, everyday life.  

The type of activity carried out by older children depends on the individual and so may be a group activity such as a team sport, a lesson or individual physical activity such as swimming, or activities completed with friends/family such as walking or a bike ride. It is most important to find activities that your child enjoys to help ensure it is completed regularly. 

Below are some examples of physical activities for different age ranges, but remember the more movement the better:

Babies (0-1):

  • Floor based play activities; try to encourage different positions such as ‘tummy time’ and side lying (see below for information regarding tummy time)
  • Rolling
  • Reaching and grasping toys
  • Water activities such as baby swim sessions
  • Group activities such as baby sensory or music classes.

Toddlers (1-2):

  • Walking instead of using the buggy
  • Playing in the park and at home.
  • Messy play activities
  • Moving around their home/nursery environment.
  • Songs with actions/dancing.
  • Involve your toddler with tasks around the house such as tidying or sorting washing.
  • Toddler groups such as gym tots
  • Water activities such as swim sessions

Young Children (pre-school):

  • Using a scooter, balance bike, bike or trike,
  • Playing on a climbing frame or park equipment, 
  • Active games such as hide and seek
  • Ball games such as kicking a football or throwing and catching
  • Going for a walk or treasure hunt
  • Playing at the beach
  • Swimming
  • Groups such as football

Children and Young People (5-18):

Your child should be carrying out a mix of moderate intensity activities that raise their heart rate and make them feel a bit warmer and some activities that build strength.

Some examples of moderate intensity activities include:

  • Walking to school at a reasonable pace
  • Playground activities
  • Riding a scooter/bike
  • Skateboarding
  • Rollerblading
  • Walking the dog
  • Cycling

A good to way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity level is if you can still talk, but not sing!

Some examples of activities to build strength include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Gymnastics
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Climbing
  • Yoga
  • Resistance exercises, using weights
  • Martial arts