What is physical activity in early childhood, and is it really that important? Baby doesn’t need to be doing sit-ups, but it’s important he’s analysis of playing activity of children of early age sitting in a confined space for long periods.
Disclosure statement The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Victoria State Government provides funding as a strategic partner of The Conversation AU. Deakin University and Western Sydney University provide funding as members of The Conversation AU. The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five university members. We often hear messages in the media that children aren’t getting enough physical activity. And is it important for their health now and in the future? When we talk about physical activity for young children we don’t mean exercise or going to the gym.
These ideas of physical activity aimed at adults are not suitable for young children. For young children, physical activity is about active play and having the opportunity to move about and explore their environment. Sometimes it’s easier to think about what physical activity isn’t. What is physical activity in young children? The physical activity opportunities provided to children will vary depending on their age and development. Some infants don’t enjoy tummy time at first.
Another good strategy when starting out can be to place the infant on a caregiver’s stomach so they see a loved one’s face when they hold their head up. Recommendations suggest limiting the time young children spend in situations that restrict movement. Some babies don’t like tummy time but it’s important to strengthen their neck. Children tend to be more active when outdoors than indoors so going outside is a great strategy for increasing physical activity.
Although young children seem to be moving around all the time, most of the activity they engage in throughout the day is of a light intensity. Current Australian Physical Activity recommendations for toddlers and preschoolers suggest they should engage in at least three hours of physical activity every day. This activity will mainly be active play and can be accumulated in small chunks across the day. Why do they need to be active?
While the benefits of physical activity in primary school children and adolescents are fairly well-established, much less is known about the benefits of physical activity in early childhood. Observational research has shown physical activity in early childhood is associated with better physical health. But physical activity may also be important for children’s brains and social skills too. Studies have found favourable associations between the time children spend in active play and their management of their own behaviour and how well they get on with others.
Perhaps equally importantly, early childhood is a time when children generally perceive their physical abilities to be quite high, meaning that they may be more willing to try and persist at new activities. This may have important implications for children’s development of fundamental movement skills such as throwing, kicking, catching and skipping. Over the longer term, evidence suggests children with higher physical activity levels in early childhood are more likely to be active later in childhood and even into adulthood. This is very important for optimal health and well-being across the lifespan.