Being active is essential for so many aspects of our health. If you’re a parent, it's especially important to make sure your children are engaging in a variety of enjoyable and age-appropriate physical activities each day. Whether it's riding their bike to school, taking the dog for a walk, playing backyard cricket, dancing around the living room or playing chasey, there are plenty of fun (and free!) ways for kids to get moving.
But for many Australian children, this isn't happening enough. National health survey data tells us that only one-third of children participate in the recommended one hour of physical activity every day, and on average, children and young people aged 5–17 years spent one and a half hours per day on physical activity and over two hours a day in screen-based activity.
The good news? It’s never too late to get moving as a family. The Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines is a great place for parents and teachers to start, with quick and simple tips and advice to support your child’s growth and development. Encouraging physical activity and healthy eating in the early years can help to establish habits that could stay with your child throughout their life. Why not try a device-free day this weekend, and head out into the backyard or your nearest park for a family ball game or running race. Anything that makes kids ‘huff and puff’ counts!
The benefits of physical activity for children
Some of the benefits of physical activity for children include:
- improved cardiovascular fitness (heart and lungs),
- maintenance of a healthy weight,
- building stronger bones and muscles,
- better sleep patterns,
- increased self-esteem and confidence,
- improved concentration,
- help with relaxation,
- improved balance,
- skills development,
- opportunities to make friends and enhance social skills.
8 simple ways to encourage active kids
1. Get to know Australia’s physical activity guidelines
It’s important for all families to be aware of how much physical activity they should be doing each day. Australia's Physical Activity guidelines recommend that kids aged 5–12 need at least one hour of physical activity every day. If there’s time for more, even better!
2. Sneak activity into your normal routine
Find clever ways to add more incidental physical activity into your child’s day. This could be active transportation or helping with everyday chores around the house. Try to reduce the amount of sedentary activity you do as a family too, like watching TV or playing on your phone. Instead, spend this downtime going for a walk, having a living room dance party or taking a family bike ride.
3. Encourage sports participation (and patience!)
Do a bit of research to find which age-appropriate organised sports are available in your local area. Children should be encouraged to try a few different activities to find ones they might enjoy. Your child may need to test out a range of sports to find their perfect fit, so be open to exercise in all shapes and forms and a bit of trial and error along the way.
4. Provide opportunities for active play
Encourage children to spend time outdoors and engage in non-structured active play activities, such as playing on playground equipment, active games like chasey or tug-of-war, or jumping rope. Don’t forget to join in too when you can!
5. Try active transportation
Getting the kids to walk or ride to school at least part of the way is an excellent way to fit more physical activity into a packed daily routine. Other than school journeys, replace short car trips to a range of destinations such as local parks, local shops and friend’s houses with walking or cycling when practical. One kilometre is about 15–20 minutes of walking.
6. Limit screen time
Adopt strategies to reduce sedentary behaviours at home. Some ideas might be removing screens from children’s bedrooms, having screen-free days, or setting time limits for screen use each day.
The recommended Australian screen time guidelines suggest no more than two hours per day for children 5–17 years and one hour per day for 2–4-year-olds.
7. Break it up
Physical activities can be performed in one continuous session or in multiple sessions throughout the day to make up the recommended amount. If it feels like there’s not enough hours in the day between school drop-offs, work and social commitments, break the activity up into mini 15-minute sessions and see how it adds up at the end of the week!
8. Lead by example
Act as a great role model by limiting your own screen time, practice healthy eating habits at home and engage in physical activity throughout the day too. Attending sports training sessions, cheering from the sidelines, and taking the time to play with your child both indoors and outdoors are simple ways to encourage physical activity to become a regular and enjoyable part of your child’s routine as they grow.
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