We often hear calls for children to be more active, but what does that mean for our infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers?
As adults we play organised sport, run or go to the gym, but physical activity for our young children means a focus on movement and active play. But why is this important?
Physical activity helps improve confidence and self-esteem and develops healthier social, cognitive, and emotional skills. It also builds strength, concentration, and coordination.
The compelling case for fitness
The evidence is clear in that when we do not think about physical activity in the early years, children can become inactive. Inactive children are more likely to be overweight and or obese at a young age.
It is also known that lower fitness levels in children are linked to lower academic outcomes. We also know that as these young children become adults they are more likely to earn less, have high health-related costs, are sick more often, are more likely to be obese as adults and have a decreased life expectancy.
This makes a very compelling case for young children to be physically active.
Tracking Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour in Childhood - A Systematic Review by Dr Rachel A. Jones and colleagues further supports the importance of physical activity and movement play from a young age.
The team conducted a systematic review of 11 papers that looked at tracking physical activity and sedentary behaviour over time.
The results of this review showed quite clearly that those children who were more active in the preschool years remained more active in primary school and those that were less active in the preschool years remained less active in the primary years.
The review concluded that early childhood should be targeted as a critical time to promote healthy lifestyle behaviours.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare research found that in 2017–18, around 1 in 4 (24%) children aged 5–14 were overweight (17%) or obese (7.7%). The proportion of children overweight or obese remained relatively stable between 2007–08 (23%) and 2017–18 (24%).1
In 2017–18, more children aged 5–14 were overweight or obese in regional and remote areas (29%) than in major cities (23%); in single-parent families (29%) than children living in two-parent families (23%); or if they had disability (30%).2
A physically active child is not spending long periods of time in front of a screen, or seated in a chair, pram or stroller.
For infants this might mean plenty of floor-based activity including tummy time to strengthen the muscles later needed for crawling.
Once a child is mobile their activity will probably come from walking, running, learning to ride a bike and swimming.
Outdoor and nature play provide wonderful opportunities to expose children to creative and imaginative play away from screens and conventional manufactured play equipment.
Penny Greenland, Director of JABADAO, The National Centre for Movement, Learning and Health says, “Missing out on early movement play is like missing the foundations of a house – you never know what cracks and problems may appear later on.”
Ways to keep your child active
The evidence is clear. Young children need to be physically active and by that it means the heartbeat being raised. There are so many ways that this can be achieved:
- Simply running along a beach chasing the waves
- Running around a garden or park chasing butterflies
- Throwing bean bags/ balls into baskets
- Bat and ball games
- Skipping without and with a rope
- Balancing on a low edge/wall
- Circle games