Exercise is essential in young children for nurturing both a healthy mind and body. Creating habits and incorporating daily activity from an early age is invaluable in terms of social, motor, and sensory development. Moreover, with recent NHS figures showing that over 1/5th of reception pupils aged 4-5 are obese or overweight, regular physical activity can counteract the potential for associated health problems. Just like adults, children become overweight when they consume more calories than they expend; combining a balanced diet with sufficient exercise is crucial for children to have a healthy start in life.
Promoting physical activity
Physical activity includes light, moderate, and more energetic, aerobic activity. Daily guidelines can comprise activity of any intensity, this can be anything from rolling and crawling to walking, skipping, and bike riding!
Babies (under 1 year): aim for 30 minutes a day
There are plenty of ways to encourage activity in a safe, supervised environment from birth – even if your baby isn't crawling yet. Floor play, tummy-time, and water-based activities all contribute to your child's sensory-motor development. Think pulling, pushing, reaching, and grasping, this will promote sufficient movement of the head and body during daily activities.
Toddlers (aged 1-2): aim for 180 minutes a day
Outdoor play is encouraged for toddlers, and active play in the form of climbing frames, balance bikes, and water activity is a great way to encourage movement. Lighter activity includes standing up and moving around and more moderate activity can range from jumping and hopping to running and water-play.
Pre-schoolers (aged3-4): aim for 180 minutes a day
For this age group, at least 60 of the 180 recommended minutes should include higher-intensity physical activity. Children under the age of 5 should not be sedentary for long periods, except for when they're sleeping. Encourage more vigorous activity by teaching your child how to ride a bike, playing outdoor ball games, or creating dance routines. As important as it is to formulate a routine, exercise shouldn't be boring and monotonous; get involved and excited about being active! Play hide and seek, create obstacle courses and supervised races or look into community-based sports teams – the options are endless!
Being active whatever the weather
Children love outdoor play, but the British weather isn't always on our side, and modern life's sedentary distractions – TV, PlayStation, iPad – are often an excuse for inactivity. The reality, however, is that children are likely to play no matter what the weather! With wellies and waterproofs, they can stay active come rain or shine. Jumping in puddles and splashing in the mud is a great way to encourage sensory development. In cooler months, take advantage of any snow by going sledging, making snow angels and snowmen. As we head into the summer months, pack the SPF and a sun hat and make the most of the sunshine with a bat and ball, hula hoop, or skipping rope!
Fun ideas to get moving
Making play-time a fun, family-all activity serves as a bonding experience and allows parents and caregivers to model healthy exercise habits for children. Be sure to support and congratulate your child's activity; this builds a positive self-image and esteem as children take pride in their physical accomplishments.
Together, families can:
Take walks together
If you have garden space, utilise it by playing throw and catch, cricket, or football
Create and supervise obstacle courses and races
Play hide and seek
Visit a soft-play area for younger years or a trampoline park for older children
Take indoor lessons such as swimming, gymnastics, dance, or karate
All movement counts, the more the better!