Children tend to be more active when outdoors than indoors so going outside is a great strategy for increasing physical activity. Children will engage in physical activity of varying intensities – from light-intensity movement (slow walking) to quite vigorous running and jumping.
Although young children seem to be moving around all the time, most of the activity they engage in throughout the day is of a light intensity.
Current Australian Physical Activity recommendations for toddlers and preschoolers suggest they should engage in at least three hours of physical activity every day. This activity will mainly be active play and can be accumulated in small chunks across the day.
Why do they need to be active?
While the benefits of physical activity in primary school children and adolescents are fairly well-established, much less is known about the benefits of physical activity in early childhood. Nonetheless, a growing body of research suggests that physical activity in early childhood may have beneficial health outcomes in both the short and long term.
Observational research has shown physical activity in early childhood is associated with better physical health. This includes a healthier body composition, and better bone and heart health, particularly when the physical activity is more intense.
But physical activity may also be important for children’s brains and social skills too. Studies have found favourable associations between the time children spend in active play and their management of their own behaviour and how well they get on with others. Others have identified that active movement breaks may improve preschool children’s attention.
Perhaps equally importantly, early childhood is a time when children generally perceive their physical abilities to be quite high, meaning that they may be more willing to try and persist at new activities. This may have important implications for children’s development of fundamental movement skills such as throwing, kicking, catching and skipping.
Over the longer term, evidence suggests children with higher physical activity levels in early childhood are more likely to be active later in childhood and even into adulthood. This is very important for optimal health and well-being across the lifespan.
About the authors
Associate Professor Kylie Hesketh, Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), holds an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship and an Honorary National Heart Foundation of Australia Future Leader Fellowship. Her research centres on public health approaches to the promotion of children’s physical activity, reduced sedentary behaviours, and prevention of obesity. She has a particular focus on providing children with a healthy start to life through the promotion of obesity-preventive behaviours during early childhood and the development of programs with ‘real world’ public health utility.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
This article first appeared on The Conversation. Read the original here.