Let’s move! Encouraging physical activity in children

Yes, it’s official: more than 60% of Australians are overweight or obese. This is hardly a statistic to be proud of and one that certainly warrants a wake-up call. It is extra alarming for children, with children more overweight than they have ever been – and also more idle. It’s time to take children’s exercise activities seriously. We must ensure that they are introduced to a wide range of activities from an early age so that they not only stay healthy, but can also discover the joys of exercise and movement.

How much exercise should children be doing?
The Australian recommendation for physical activity (in children and adolescents) is for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. This goes hand in hand with the recommendation that young people should limit their electronic media entertainment (iPads, television, computer games) to no more than two hours a day.

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What qualifies as ‘physical activity’?
Technically speaking, ‘physical activity’ is defined as any type of movement or exercise. It may include daily activities such as making the bed, playing with pets, doing household chores; or more structured activities such as sports practice, cycling, running or walking.

Simple ways to get children moving
If you are trying to introduce an inactive child to physical activity here are a few simple ideas:

  • play with a ball or throw a frisbee
  • play some fun music and start dancing
  • fly a kite
  • ride bikes together
  • build sand castles at the beach
  • play with the dog
  • learn to swim or play in a pool
  • play table tennis or totem tennis
  • play outdoor games such as ‘hide and seek’ or ‘chasey’

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Benefits of physical activity for children
Active children are happy children. They are also healthier, stronger and more socially interactive. Let’s break down a few of the main benefits.

Active children are more likely to maintain a healthy body weight, have lower insulin levels, better posture, more energy and improved coordination.  This also means that they are in a better position to promote healthy growth and development in their bodies.

Emotional well-being
Children who exercise regularly feel more self-confident, relaxed, are happier and enjoy a sense of belonging.  They also experience better sleep and are more achievement focused.

Mental health
Active children can concentrate better at school and home and are less likely to have problems with anxiety and stress.

Social skills
Children who exercise regularly learn valuable skills such as teamwork and cooperation. They also learn that exercise is a fantastic way to have fun, meet new friends and further integrate with other active people.

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Productivity and learning
Activity makes children more motivated and better organised. There are direct links between improved learning outcomes and physical activity.

Positive effects in the schoolroom
Active children are less likely to become aggressive or have discipline problems.

Antisocial behaviour
Children who exercise regularly are less likely to take up smoking, recreational drug use or indulge in criminal activity.

Tips to keep children active

  • Be active yourself! Set a good example and show children that you enjoy moving around often. Stand instead of sit, walk instead of drive, and whenever possible encourage children to join in physical games.
  • Restrict television, computer games and iPhone/iPad use.
  • Promote acceptance and open-mindedness regarding all ability levels and body shapes.

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Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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