Physical activity is very important for those who wish to stay healthy. Babies and young children should strive to meet physical activity guidelines if they want to develop normally.
Remaining active also helps to encourage continued flexibility and the development of motor skills. Guidelines for physical activities differ depending on the age of the person in question.
Babies should be encouraged to enjoy physical activities at various points throughout the day.
There are plenty of educational toys and games which encourage babies to move every conceivable muscle in their bodies. These toys and games encourage pushing and pulling movements, reaching and grasping movement, and movements of the head and neck. Aural and visual stimuli help to encourage babies to engage in these movements or reward them for doing so.
Babies who cannot crawl yet should also spend time on their stomachs (“tummy time”), where they are able to develop motor skills which they may not be able to use if they are restricted to their back.
Whenever safe, children should also be allowed to enjoy “free movement” time, where they are given the chance to try walking and crawling without restraints.
Walking aids and baby bouncers put unnecessary pressure on certain areas of the body and can restrict free movement. Once babies are old enough to start to crawl, they should be encouraged to do so, as long as they are in a safe space. Baby-proofing areas will allow them to explore an area without any risk. A supervised and nurturing environment will allow them to develop their physical and mental senses.
Once a child is able to walk on their own, they should be allowed to engage in at least 180 minutes worth of physical activity per day. If your toddler is going to a day care centre whilst you are at work, you should take the time to find out about the physical activities that they are involved in during the day. Knowing this will allow you to consider what you need to do at home to allow your child to make the most of their day.
Activities for toddlers should be a mixture of light physical activities as well as more energetic physical activities. Light activities can include rolling, mat-based play, crawling and standing up. Energetic play may include ball games, running around, climbing and riding on peddle cars/tricycles.
Under 5s should aim to minimise the amount of time that they are sedentary for. Sitting down or lying down for too long is known to be bad for children’s physical development. Time spent in front of the TV or strapped into a carrier seat should be minimised.
If toddlers are forced to spend time in a sedentary position, they should try to engage in more intense physical activities later on in the day.
Energetic activities which can be enjoyed by under 5s who are confident walkers include; dancing, swimming, skipping rope, gymnastics, riding a bicycle, and active games like catch. You child should get slightly out of breath when they engage in active play.
Children over 5
Children who are over 5 do not require as much physical activity to encourage development, however they should still strive to meet recommended physical targets.
Every child aged between 5 and 18 should attempt to do at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. This should include both moderate and vigorous levels of activity. Changing the levels of activity can help to maximise their physical potential.
Although many primary school aged children actually get 60 minutes of physical exercise per day from playground time, if children are not active in the playground then it is essential that you encourage further activity outside of school. You may want to ask the teachers at parent’s evening to find out whether your children are physically engaged in the school playground.
Moderate activities include anything that raises the heart rate, and may include things like walking to school or taking the dog for a walk.
Vigorous activities are activities which raise the heart rate much more and make your child feel more out of breath. They include activities like running or playing football. They may need a short recovery period after completing a period of vigorous exercise.
Three times a week, children should engage in activities which are specifically designed to build strong muscles and do exercises which help to strengthen bones. This will help to boost their physical strength in adulthood.
Running, jumping, football and martial arts are great sports for helping to build strong muscles and bones. Interval training which is designed for children is a vigorous exercise which will help to work all of the major muscle groups. Speak to your child’s PE teacher to find out what muscle activities they do during school time.