Being active plays an essential role in maintaining all aspects of physical health, including healthy weight, disease prevention and developing physical literacy. Children who are physically active have good emotional health; they are likely to be more confident and resilient, with a strong sense of self-belief. In addition, being physically active has a role to play in advancing cognitive thinking and promoting language development for babies and children.
The majority of children today are not active enough with only one in ten children aged two to four years meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ recommendations of being physically active for 180 minutes every day. These 180 minutes are defined as movement over the whole day and should be a mix of short more intense activity and longer periods of low level activity.
Evidence suggests that being inactive is associated with childhood obesity, which is linked to long term health risks in the future such as cardio-vascular disease, some cancers and diabetes. It is also linked to lower cognitive development, which can influence future academic attainment and having poorer mental health outcomes.
For babies you will want to consider the opportunities they have to play and interact. You can support their development by providing stimuli which encourages them to reach out, push up on their hands and stretch their necks on their tummies. This strengthens muscles they use to hold up their heads as well as develop their vocal chords. An adult being tummy to tummy or lying on the floor side-to-side talking to and making eye contact with babies encourages this, as well as being playful and fun for them. Providing space for pre-walking children to roll and play on the floor develops the muscles needed later for crawling and walking. Playing with children in these ways not only supports physical activity it also fosters good attachments, promotes social skills and early communication.
For children who can walk independently the guidelines specify 180 minutes of physical movement spread throughout the day. This encompasses a wide range of different activities from cruising furniture, exploring different spaces to active travel such as walking, scooting or peddling. Physical activity includes running and climbing as well experiences which combine and develop fine and gross motor skills such as learning to throw and catch. Discovering how to balance, developing co-ordination, stamina and strength can encourage a lifelong interest in many different kinds of physical activity and/or sports.
Further resources and information
Start active stay active are the physical activity guidelines for the early years www.bhfactive.org.uk/earlyyearsguidelines/index.htm
Start4Life has a range of tools and ideas to help get children under three years old more active. For further information visit www.nhs.uk/start4life/pages/baby-moves
NHS Choices is the country’s biggest health website and provides information to allow people to make choices about their health. For NHS Choices’ information about physical activity in the early years visit www.nhs.uk/livewell/fitness/pages/physical-activity-guidelines-for-children
Public Health England is committed to disseminating the physical activity guidelines to the public via activity/healthcare professionals. An infographic for professionals has been developed which presents the early years physical activity guidelines simply and visually.
Physical activity for early years infographic: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/start-active-stay-active-infographics-on-physical-activity
Department of Health has produced factsheets summarising the guidelines for:
Early years (under 5s not yet walking) Download Factsheet 1: Early years (under 5s not yet walking)
Early years (under 5s capable of walking) Download Factsheet 2: Early years (under 5s capable of walking)
Physical Activity at Work
According to the government, people in the UK are around 20% less active now than in the 1960s. Being less physically active increases the risk of a range of health conditions, for example:
- coronary heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- mental health problems
Being active helps:
- prevent disease
- maintain a healthy weight
- have positive mental health and wellbeing
A toolkit for employers on how to support physical activity, healthy eating and healthier weight can be found on the Business in the Community website
Best practice guidance on how to encourage employees to be physically active on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) website
Advice, information and ideas for how to promote physical activity at work on the British Heart Foundation website
Active travel to work resources on the Sustrans website
Active workplace ideas and support from Wesport
Bristol Active City: lists sports and activities near you as well as Free sessions and tasters activities available in Bristol