Child’s play

Happy girl holding airplane toy and children near

Child’s play

There has been much written about the difficulty faced by parents hoping to lessen the time their children spend in front of a screen. Yet there are a multitude of different ways to get your children more active – not all of which involve formal exercise.

Australia may profess to be sports watching nation, but it is clear this dedication does not always extend to our participation rates.

Research by the Department of Health (DOH) shows around one in four Australian children are overweight or obese, a result of which ABS figures show is primarily due to the fact Australian children now watch between 20 and 30 hours of screen time every week.

According to the DOH children aged between five and 12 require at least 60 minutes and up to several hours of “moderate to vigorous physical activity” every day. It recommends that those between the ages of 12 to 18 years should be encouraged to spend at least 60 minutes engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activities each day and for additional health benefits teens should be encouraged to participate in 20 minutes or more of vigorous activity on three to four days each week.

Nutrition Australia says encouraging kids and teens to be active from a young age ensures they develop good habits while helping set them up for the remainder of their lives.

Active play, informal games and organised sports provide good opportunities for children to develop a range of skills including running, throwing, jumping, catching and kicking. Playing sport can help children build their confidence and gives them the opportunity to partake in a wide range of activities as they get older.

Children should be encouraged to participate in a variety of activities that are fun and that suit their interests, skills and ability, it says.

“Activity doesn’t have to be in the form of structured sport, but it is important that children are encouraged to become involved in group activities. In addition to preventing weight problems, involving your child in a sporting team and/or club will help them learn valuable life skills.”

To help underpin the importance of being part of a team and participating in fun activities, the NSW Government has introduced the Active Kids initiative, which allows parents and guardians to apply for a $100 voucher to put towards accredited children’s sports programmes. Other states, including SA, QLD, WA and the NT have similar schemes in place.

Nutrition Australia says there are many non-structured ways to encourage children to be active, most of which are suitable for the whole family.

These include:

  • Walking to school together
  • Joining in on action games and songs such as The Hokey Pokey dance
  • Visiting the beach with a cricket bat or frisbee
  • Riding bikes to a favoured local picnic spot
  • Enjoying a bush walk
  • Taking the dog for a walk
  • Participating in outings that involve a lot of walking such as visiting a zoo or a museum

To help make it easier for parents and caregivers, several agencies have joined forces to create a “one stop shop” of resources to offer parents and caregivers information about healthy eating and physical activity.

Dubbed The Healthy Kids, the initiative sees the NSW Ministry of Health, the NSW Department of Education, the Office of Sport and the Heart Foundation, team up to promote five key messages including: getting kids active for an hour or more each day, choosing water as a drink of choice, eating more fruit and vegetables, turning off the TV or computer and getting active, and eating fewer snacks.

It says kids and teens who don’t get enough physical activity are at a greater risk of becoming overweight or obese, making it harder for them to be active and keep up in sport or play.

“Being overweight can also make kids more prone to conditions such as asthma, flat feet and joint sprains. In the long term, it can contribute to conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and liver disease. Research tells us that the warning signs for these conditions can be present in overweight teenagers as young as 15 years of age.

The Healthy Kids project says there is a lot parents can do to encourage their children to become more active, including:

  • Being a good role model and having a positive attitude to being active. If your children see you enjoying physical activity and having fun, it can motivate them to participate
  • Encouraging ‘active play’ by buying gifts that get kids and teens up and moving, such as balls, bats, skipping ropes and other equipment
  • Parking some distance away from your destination – school, sport or the shops – and walking the rest of the way
  • Making sure kids and teens have an opportunity to be active after school, either through active play or organised sport
  • Encouraging kids and teens to try different sports or activities so they can find one or more that they really enjoy and want to continue with
  • Starting slowly and build up the amount of physical activity that your children do, particularly if they haven’t previously been very active
  • Making sure they drink plenty of water when they are physically active or playing sports and ensuring children make healthy food and drink choices and limit foods that are high in added sugar, salt and saturated fat.

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