Five ways to incorporate physical activity into a child's daily routine
How much does your child move each day?
Worryingly, only one in five children in the UK achieve at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Such low levels of physical activity are a result of modern lifestyles that rely heavily on cars, games consoles and mobile phones.
So what's the big deal?
Being physically active is essential for a child to reach their full potential. Beyond the physical benefits of increased fitness and maintaining a healthy weight, children who are more physically active also have a greater social and emotional wellbeing than those who lead sedentary lifestyles. In addition, more active children do better academically and can sustain their concentration for longer periods of time.
Why make the change now?
Childhood provides a golden opportunity to establish positive habits. During this key developmental period, the brain generates and then connects new brain cells. These connections are formed based on experience, with active children forming brain circuits that support a physically active lifestyle. Once these positive, or negative, connections are formed, and then reinforced, more effort is required to modify them as we age.
With the start of the school year here, there is no better time to form positive habits and turn the tide of insufficient activity. Below are five great ideas that can help to introduce more physical activity into your child's day.
1. Get active as a family
Research consistently shows that children love spending time with their family. Parents and older siblings act as role models for leading an active lifestyle. Yet, modern lifestyles have reduced family time. Why not protect some time each week to get active together? This could involve going for a walk, joining a local club or taking part in a game or sport together. For something different, why not try geocaching? This is a modern 'treasure hunt' that involves searching for hidden boxes using an app on your phone.
2. Persuade school to offer more active opportunities
Lesson times at school are the most sedentary segment within a child's day. This can last for up to six hours each day! Why not ask your child's school and teacher to introduce more physical activity into traditional academic lessons? Extensive international research shows that being active during this time not only benefits health but can also improve academic performance. To get started, you could use the BBC and Premier League Super Movers programme that combines academic content with movement in a range of fun and engaging videos. You can even join in live with schools across the UK during the Super Movers Live Lesson on Wednesday 19th September. Moving beyond the classroom, why not try spelling relays or active maths in the playground?
3. Make it fun
Children rarely choose to "be active". More often than not, they select activities where movement is a by-product. If you think about the school playground as an example, what helps children decide which activity they want to take part in? Often the choice will be driven by friendship groups and high reward activities. For some this may involve being active - think football or tig - for others, this is likely to involve being sedentary eg, sat talking to friends. When deciding on an activity, involve your child in the process and encourage them to select an option that encompasses movement. Try a range of different opportunities to broaden their horizon.
4. Make small sustainable changes
The tendency is to go large when we plan to change our behaviour, think new years resolutions. The result is that these substantial changes are often difficult to maintain. For positive sustainable change, start small and identify a trigger that will initiate the activity. Why not set an alert on your phone that sounds at the same time each day? If you choose an evening walk, the small change might involve putting on your trainers - say after dinner- and walking once around the block. You must complete this minimum amount every day, come rain or shine. If you wish, you can of course walk further.
5. Hide the activity
Modern day lifestyles have removed the need to be active, we drive everywhere and can even change the television channel with our voice! These subtle, but significant changes, have led to substantial reductions in lifestyle physical activity. Such lifestyle activities provide physical activity by stealth.
At the start of the school year, why not add some of these opportunities back into the daily routine? Walking or cycling to school is an excellent source of physical activity. If the distance is too great just park further away and walk an additional 400 metres at the start and end of the school day. You never know, you might even save time by avoiding the chaotic school gate drop off! For those who catch the bus you could get on, or off, a stop earlier.
Andy Daly-Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity and Behavioural Science at Leeds Beckett University. His research focuses on the impact and feasibility of physical activity interventions for children and young people.
Super Movers aims to get children moving throughout the day with lots of free, easy-to-use video resources and great football-inspired incentives like a visit from the Premier League Trophy. Brain Booster routines star famous faces and cover key areas of Numeracy and Literacy. They can be used in the classroom or at home to help children feel refreshed and energised whilst learning. The Just for Fun routines help get the whole family active together. Why not have a go?