Keeping Children Active

Enthusiastic parents want their children to do well. Although academic performance is important, remember physical exercise, too. It all helps! A healthy body means a healthy mind, and exercise is vital for good physical, mental and emotional health. All of these contribute to your child’s success in learning and in life.

Blood pumping around the body carries oxygen to essential organs like the heart and brain. So, in addition to studying and doing homework, make sure that your child is getting plenty of exercise. It will all help them to learn!

Statistics show that only 1 in 20 people complete the recommended guidelines for weekly exercise. The younger the better, for starting healthy lifestyles and exercise. If parents can incorporate physical movement into the daily lives of their children from a young age, it will help improve their health and wellbeing for life.

This guide outlines why exercise is important, has tips for getting and keeping children active, and tells you how to make it a fun activity for the entire family.

Why is physical activity important?

The ‘National Child Measurement Programme’ research concluded in 2014/15 that almost 20% of 10-11 year olds are classed as obese (Public Health England).

The increasing popularity of smartphones, internet, Skype, TV and video games has resulted in children spending more time sitting in front of a screen, instead of spending time being physically active. But parents can change this.

In addition to addressing obesity, growing children need exercise to help develop their bones, joints and muscles – and it makes them feel happier.

Exercise provides a ‘feel good factor’ and alleviates anxiety, while also building confidence. Your child might be reluctant at first, but once they get outside in the fresh air, or get the rush of feel-good hormones like serotonin and endorphins, they will soon start to have fun!

Regular exercise also helps to prevent serious health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes and hypertension. The British Heart Foundation website provides useful information.

Young children especially are full of energy, so an hour of playing in the park will help to tire them out, meaning a good night’s sleep, which is also vital for their development.

Physical activity with other children enables them to work on their social interaction and teamwork skills.

How much exercise should children do?

The government suggests that children under the age of 5 should be physically active for around 3 hours a day. Children between the ages of 5-16 should be doing at least 1 hour of exercise each day (Change4Life).

Exercise does not have to be completed all at once: sessions can be split throughout the day.

Sports/Activities to try

Sports are a fun and competitive way of getting children active, so encourage them to join local classes, clubs or teams.

Give them the opportunity from a young age to try a variety of sports and activities such as:

  • Football
  • Hockey
  • Rugby
  • Netball
  • Tennis
  • Basketball
  • Volleyball
  • Badminton
  • Squash
  • Swimming
  • Surfing
  • Water Polo
  • Dancing
  • Gymnastics
  • Trampoline
  • Athletics
  • Martial Arts (Judo, Karate)
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Climbing
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi

The whole family can get involved in activities such as ice skating, roller blading, bowling or swimming at the local leisure centre. Exercise doesn’t even need to cost you a penny – get everyone together and go for a relaxing stroll in the countryside or a run. Or get the bikes out and go on a family bike ride.

Keep it fun!

Ensure that physical activity is fun. Children don’t need to participate in strenuous exercise – walking works. As long as they are not sitting in front of a screen and are moving, it counts!

  • Provide them with equipment to encourage them outside. Things like footballs, skipping ropes, frisbees, water guns and hula hoops can provide hours of fun!
  • Chasing games in the playground or garden are good
  • An afternoon at the local park playing on the slides, swings and climbing frames is also fun
  • A day at the seaside is a great way to let off some steam and the children will have fun running on the beach, building sandcastles or flying a kite
  • Holidays provide a good opportunity to get active. Try a camping trip, or if your family are feeling more adventurous, activity holidays are packed with fun things for all the family to do, such as mountain climbing, water sports, abseiling and cycling
  • Walk or cycle wherever possible and see if the school provides a ‘Walking Bus’ scheme

Perhaps create a ‘Getting Active’ timetable and plan different things to do every day.

More advice can be found on the NHS website.

What if they don’t like exercise?

In one survey of 260,000 children, almost 34 never complete the 1 hour of recommended exercise per day.

  • Some children just don’t like sports, so try to find things that they enjoy and introduce exercise without them realising. You don’t even need to leave your home to get them exercising. Helping with the gardening, completing chores, washing the car or walking the dog all contribute
  • Get everyone involved. If their friends and family are joining in with activities they are more likely to participate
  • Positively praise them, offer support and let them know that you are proud of them
  • Statistics from ‘Childwise’ show that in 2016 children aged between 5-16 are spending almost 7 hours a day behind a screen (BBC), so limit their time on computers, mobile phones, watching TV and playing video games
  • Break exercise up into blocks throughout the day, so that it doesn’t overwhelm them
  • A great idea is to set a target with them to work towards, gently increasing their exercise. For example, completing a sponsored 5k walk for charity

And finally…

Whatever you do with your children, make sure that you are giving them opportunities to complete their daily physical activity.

You’re helping them to be healthier and happier in the long run (literally – on a long run!).

Let them see you being active, too. Lead by example.

  1. Physical activity is important even for younger children. According to data compiled by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, what proportion of 4-5 year olds are obese?
    The statistics showed that 9.5% of children in reception year at school were considerably overweight. The problem gets worse as we age, with a quarter of all adults being obese. Clearly, getting children into the habit of exercising regularly should be done as soon as possible
  2. Overweight children are much more likely to become obese adults. This will increase their risk of which of the following?
    Obesity can cause high blood pressure, which in turn leads to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Certain types of cancer, such as ovarian, breast, colon and prostate, are more common in those of us who are overweight. Type 2 diabetes is also more likely in obese people. Sorry to keep on, but it's important to know the risks which come with obesity
  3. There are many health benefits for children that come with regular exercise. Which of the following is NOT one of them?
    Regular physical exercise can bring all of the above benefits and more - however, fun with friends, important as it is, is not a HEALTH benefit
  4. So, we should all get some exercise. Adults need about 20 minutes a day and toddlers need 3 hours. How long should children aged from 5 - 16 be active?
    NHS Choices recommends 1 hour of exercise for children every day. This should be a mixture of moderate activity (eg walking or riding a scooter) and vigorous activity (running or swimming). Exercises to strengthen muscles and bones are also encouraged
  5. Family days out can be opportunities to get the children active. Which of these options would have the least benefit health-wise?
    Funfairs can be exciting but don't involve a great deal of activity. And you don't have to spend money to keep active - there are many ways to have fun and exercise in your local park, your garden or even your house. Take a look at the Fun Generator on the Change 4 Life website for more than 100 ideas
  6. Some 'toys' are also great exercise equipment. All of the following 4 options bring opportunities to exercise but which is the least advisable?
    Dogs do provide lots of opportunity for exercise - taking them for walks, playing with them in the garden etc. However, they are a lifetime commitment and not to be bought on a whim. Hula hoops, roller skates, kites, footballs, frisbees, water pistols... there are plenty of inexpensive toys which encourage activity. Of course, if you already have a dog then encouraging your child to play with it and take it for walks does get them on the move
  7. It can be difficult getting children to stay active. In a 2012 survey for the British Heart Foundation, only 21% of boys were doing the recommended amount of weekly exercise. How many girls met the target?
    Girls were even less active than boys. Older children do worse too - in 5 to 7-year-olds 23% of girls and 24% of boys met the target but in 13 to 15-year-olds only 8% of girls and 14% of boys managed it. It is a worry that such a small number of children are getting enough exercise
  8. Computers, 'phones, video games and TVs all keep children from being active. How many hours 'screen time' does an average child have in a typical day?
    Teenagers are the worst offenders, spending 8 hours a day glued to a screen. It's a good idea to limit the amount of screen time your child gets as it does inhibit any chance of exercise
  9. Walking to school, rather than being driven, is a great way to get children active. The government says that children over 8 years old should walk to school if they live closer than what distance?
    3 miles might sound like a long way but most of us should be able to walk it in less than 45 minutes. Doing that much exercise twice a day, 5 times a week would go a long way towards keeping a child fit
  10. A study carried out by researchers from Oxford and Loughborough Universities in 2015, found that children who exercise regularly...
    As well as the obvious health benefits, exercise also improves happiness and confidence levels and even academic performance. One hour of extra exercise per day can improve exam grades by one whole point - from C to B or from B to A for example


Author: Linda Innes

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