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Staying Active

The importance of physical exercise for children

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When we talk of children and physical exercise, it’s a lot different to how we would approach a movement workout for an adult – you certainly wouldn’t expect to see a child lifting weights at a gym, for example.

For a child, any form of movement could be classed as physical activity, from running around with friends to dancing around the living room.

Why is exercise so important for children?

Exercise is usually something that is done to keep fit and well, and while that’s true for any age, there are other factors that make it so important to encourage activity in children from an early age. Exercise enhances and promotes the development of motor skills, bones and muscles, cognitive and social skills and brings a number of other health benefits too:1

  • Improving fitness
  • Providing an opportunity to socialise
  • Increasing concentration
  • Improving academic scores
  • Building a stronger heart, bones and healthier muscles
  • Encouraging healthy growth and development
  • Improving self-esteem
  • Improving posture and balance
  • Lowering stress
  • Encouraging a better night’s sleep     

What type, and how much exercise does your child need?

Both the amount and type of exercise your child should be getting depends on their age:

Less than 5-years and not yet walking – NHS guidance states that children under the age of 5, who are not yet walking, should be encouraged to enjoy any type of movement activity to benefit their development. Examples of suitable exercises would include floor-based activities that encourage them to hold different positions, such as rolling over or reaching for a toy. You could also enjoy water-based activities, such as play time in the bath or you could go to your local swimming pool with them.

Less than 5-years and walking unaided – In this scenario, the guidance is that you should ensure your child is active for a minimum of three hours each day. Time in front of the TV or computer should be minimised and instead, they should be encouraged to enjoy activities like running or playing in the garden, throwing and catching a ball, climbing, walking and bouncing on a trampoline.

Children and young people between 5-18 years – NHS guidance is that children and young people should be doing at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity each day to fully reap the health benefits of physical exercise. Examples might include riding a bike, swimming, gymnastics, skipping, playing a sport such as football, martial arts or even taking the family dog for a brisk walk, which would benefit them too!

Whatever the age of your child, it’s important to remember that physical movement should form the basis of their development and should always be encouraged over spending time in front of the television. As with most things though, it’s all about balance, so there’s certainly nothing wrong with sitting down and watching a movie with them occasionally either.  Physical exercise has been shown in studies to enhance self-esteem, reduce stress and benefit children’s overall mental health,2 so should always be actively encouraged.

  1. https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/general-health-advice/leading-active-lifestyle/exercise-children-and-young-people/ []
  2. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1994-05137-001 []