A child’s job is to play. They love being active and Summer holidays provide the perfect setting. The long, warm days are ideal for enticing children outdoors, whether it be a game of backyard cricket, a run around the park or a splash in the local pool. Once school goes back and routine sets in, it can be difficult to maintain the recommended activity levels for children. Encouraging children and teens to be active from a young age sets good habits early on and helps them develop the skills they need to stay active throughout their lives. Today we look at some of the ways you can help keep your children active in spite of their busy schedules.

How do we know how much physical activity is enough?

National guidelines recommend that infants and preschool children are physically active for at least 3 hours per day, whilst older children and teenagers should be getting 1 hour or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. Remember that this doesn’t have to be all at once – it can be broken up through the day into smaller units of time.

When adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym, going for a run or lifting weights. For kids, exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have P.E. at school, during recess and lunch, at dance class or football practice, or when riding their bike, just to name a few.

As with adults, there are many benefits of physical activity in children. Regular physical activity helps kids and teens:

  • with healthy growth and development
  • build strong bones and muscles
  • improve balance and develop skills
  • maintain and develop flexibility
  • achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • improve cardiovascular fitness
  • reduce stress and feel more relaxed
  • improve posture
  • boost confidence and self esteem
  • have fun with their friends and make new ones
  • develop co-operation and teamwork skills
  • improve concentration

Children who don’t get enough physical activity are at a greater risk of becoming overweight or obese which can make them more prone to conditions such as asthma, flat feet and joint sprains, and in the long term can contribute to conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and liver disease. By ensuring our kids get enough regular exercise, we can minimise their risk of developing these conditions.

Now that we know the benefits of physical activity in children, how do we actually go about encouraging children to get active?

Getting them moving

To help kids and teens be active every day, they need opportunities for sport, play and exercise at school, after school and on weekends.

Remember, physical activity doesn’t all have to happen at the one time. Accumulate it throughout the day – by walking or riding to and from school, being involved in activities at school, active play at home or taking part in organised sport after school and on weekends.

Good habits are best started early.

Young children are naturally physically active so take this and run with it (no pun intended)! Children also learn by example, so being physically active as a parent can increase your child’s participation.

Try some of the following to set a good example for your children:

  • show your child that you regularly participate in physical activity yourself
  • allow your child to choose the types of activities they are interested in
  • promote acceptance of different body shapes and ability levels
  • reinforce the social benefits of physical activity as well as the physical and health benefits
  • incorporate fun activities into family outings (more suggestions below)
  • expose your child to as many different types of sports and activities as possible
  • limit screen time as much as possible

Physical activity does not always have to be structured

Some suggestions for increasing physical activity include:

  • indulging your child’s interest in physical activity – for example, kick the ball with them when they ask whenever possible
  • show your child how to perform basic skills such as throwing a ball, skipping and jumping
  • take them to the local park and help them use the equipment
  • walk short distances instead of taking the car
  • choose activities that are age and developmentally appropriate
  • involve your child in physical activities around the home such as gardening or washing the car
  • make sure some family outings are physically active, such as:
  • flying a kite
  • riding bikes
  • jumping on a trampoline
  • swimming and splashing about at the local pool
  • dancing to their favourite music
  • walking the dog
  • throwing a Frisbee
  • backyard cricket

For those kids who aren’t motivated to get physically active, start slowly and gradually build up the amount of time spent being active. Encourage them to try a range of different sports and activities so they can find one that they really enjoy and want to continue with.

To help your child live a healthy lifestyle, make sure they drink plenty of water and are fuelled by healthy foods – try to limit foods that are high in added sugar, salt and saturated fat. Limit the amount of “screen time” such as watching TV, playing computer games or hand-held devices to no more than 2 hours per day.

Remember that habits are formed in the early years, so providing early guidance on what is important for a healthy lifestyle will set them up for a lifetime of good habits!