Exercising as a family
Physical activity is important for children – and parents can help by encouraging energetic playtime and games. Ellie Chapman, project co-ordinator with MyTime Active, is a specialist in physical activity and nutrition for children and offers some helpful pointers.
Q: Why is physical activity so important?
A: Being active has been shown to benefit children across their development:
i) physically: it helps children to maintain a healthy weight, develop a healthy cardiovascular system, as well as healthy bones and muscles, and also plays a role in the development of coordination and movement;
ii) psychologically: it has also been associated with a reduced risk of anxiety and depression in children;
iii) socially: participation in physical activity gives children the opportunity to interact with others in a fun, relaxed environment and assists in the development of self-esteem and self-confidence.
Q: How much physical activity do children need?
A: Once children are able to walk on their own (toddlers and up), it is recommended that they are physically active for at least 180 minutes every day. The 180 minutes can be built up throughout the day and can include both light and moderate activity, as well as active play. Examples of light activity are walking, rolling around and playing; moderate activity: skipping, hopping, jumping and running; active play: climbing, riding a bike, ball games, chasing games and playing in water.
Children aged five to 18 should be participating in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day, ranging from playground activities to fast running and sports.
On three days a week, these activities should involve muscle-strengthening activities, such as push-ups, and bone-strengthening activities, such as running.
Q: Does "playing" count?
A: Yes, play can be included as part of the 180 minutes and 60 minutes of recommended physical activity a day for toddlers and five- to 18-year-olds respectively.
Both moderate and active play encourages the development of motor skills and coordination in children. Examples of these activities include:
Moderate play – jumping, hopping, skipping, playground activities;
Active play – climbing, riding a bike, ball games, chasing games, playing in water.
Q: How can parents help?
A: Children copy and learn from their environment. My top tips for encouraging children to be more physically active are:
- limit screen time (TV, computer, tablet, games console) to, say, one hour an evening;
- be a role model and set an example for your children. Limit your screen time and show your children that you are active too;
- build physical activity into their daily routine, for example walking to school or if not possible drop them off/get off the bus early and walk the remainder;
- allow 30 minutes of active play time before homework in the evening;
- if they don’t like traditional sports, try alternative activities such as skateboarding, hopscotch or flying a kite;
- organise after-school activities with friends. Group together and take children to the park for an hour after school. Children are much more likely to want to be active if their friends are too.
Q: How do families benefit from working with you at Mytime Active?
A: During their time on our Boost programmes, we see a number of positive changes in the children and families we work with. As a result of being more physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet, the children have more energy, are more confident and appear healthier and happier.
It’s also great to see children exploring new hobbies and finding new activities that they enjoy and will carry through into their daily lives. Being physically active together allows families the opportunity to have fun, share interests and become closer as a family.
Feeling inspired? Read other articles on the topic of physical activity in our Health & Wellbeing section.
Mytime Active is a social enterprise and registered charity that helps people across the UK access healthy lifestyles through affordable community health services. Visit www.mytimeactive.co.uk for details.
Ellie Chapman has a BSc in psychology (Leeds), specialising in health psychology, and an MSc in nutrition, physical activity and public health (Bristol).