Experts have warned that the UK is in “the grip of an inactivity crisis” after new research reveals that nine in ten 2-4 year olds are not getting the recommended amount of exercise needed per day to be healthy. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) report – which analysed Government data for more than 2,000 children – shows that just 9 percent of toddlers meet the current guidelines of at least three hours’ physical activity per day, and more than 80 percent of pre-school children do not even manage one hour. Elaine McNish, director of the BHF National Centre comments:
“The environment has changed a lot, so children are much more likely to be driven everywhere than to walk, there is a lack of green spaces, and then we’ve seen a rise in the use of computers, iPads and so forth.”
Physical activity is essential for young children as it is proven to support brain development, enhance bone and muscular development and benefit social and cognitive skill development and emotional wellbeing. An active life in the early years also lays the foundation to continue being active into adulthood.
As a result of the findings, the BHF is calling for policy makers to prioritise physical activity in the early years and incorporate it into policy “nationally, regionally and locally”.
The charity’s manifesto, The Best Start in Life, asks policy makers to raise awareness of the government’s physical activity guidelines for pre-schoolers. It asks for better education through early years settings with physical activity being engrained into the curriculum. It calls for greater emphasis on creating safe, stimulating and accessible environments (such as community play areas and traffic-free zones), and it asks for greater monitoring of young children’s activity levels via health professionals in order to better support parents in this area.
Physical activity doesn’t have to be expensive. There are lots of ways to incorporate more movement into your toddler’s day, from walking to pre-school or riding a bike to spending half an hour at the local park or soft play. Elaine McNish suggests using nursery rhymes to get your child moving, or just spending more time outside. If you choose to go for more formal exercise such as gymnastics, dance classes or football clubs, don’t forget that you can use your childcare vouchers to pay for registered sports clubs until your child is 15, saving up to £933 per parent per year.