“The best way to make a child good is to make a child happy” – Oscar Wilde

And the best way to make a child happy is by keeping them active!

So maybe it’s not that simple, but keeping a child active can certainly go a long way when dealing with tantrums, managing behaviour and developing healthy, happy children.

Benefits of being active

We all know that engaging in regular physical activity is important for health. It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight gain and some forms of cancer. (1, 2) Being physically active also contributes to optimal bone mineral density and immune function which are particularly important for growing children. (1, 2)

Furthermore, engaging in regular physical activity improves a child’s fundamental motor skills including coordination, balance, reaction times and spatial awareness, which are linked to brain development, whist also improving social skills, confidence, self-esteem, mental alertness, concentration, academic performance, sleep patterns and ultimately behaviour. (3, 4)

What more reason could there be to be active? – How about happiness? Active kids are also happy kids!

There are several schools of thought on how being physically active results in “happiness,” with these effects seen over both the long and short term. (5)

The first theory suggests that physical activity may offer a distraction and simply provide a “time-out” from daily stresses, which is definitely a plausible tactic in the heat of a tantrum. (6, 7) It is also suggested that physical activity offers social stimulation which has a positive effects on psychosocial wellbeing as a consequence of belonging to a group, being accepted and connecting with other people. (6) A thermogenic effect is hypothesised to improve mood through whole-body warming as a result of activity which relieves muscular tensions. (6) While the monoamine metabolism theory, implicates an improvement in neurotransmission of dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin which has roles in both managing depression and ADHD. (6, 8, 9,) Finally, it is hypothesised that physical activity increase endorphin release, which simply make us feel good. (6)

Regardless of the mechanism behind this “happiness” effect, physical activity can be loads of fun!

Recommendations for Physical Activity

Despite the benefits on health, behaviour and happiness, 31% of children aged 9-16 years, are failing to meet the recommended level of moderate intensity physical activity each day. (9) For children aged 1 -5 years the current guidelines recommend being physically active for at least 3 hours a day to support appropriate growth and development, while from 5 – 18 years children should accumulate 1 hour or more of moderate and vigorous physical activity daily. (10, 11)

Among the adult population (over 15 years) 66.9% are similarly failing to meet the recommended level of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week. (12)

Finding ways to keep kids active

The most significant role model in a child’s life is their parents, so what better way to encourage your child to be active, than to get out and be active with them. Not only will this help you achieve your 30 minutes of physical activity and role-model healthy behaviours, but it is also a great way to spend quality time together and build positive relationships.

There are hundreds of ways to be active; kick a ball, fly a kite, go for a bike ride, jump on the trampoline, have a race, go for a walk, wash the car, or join a team.

If you find it difficult to fit the recommended level of activity into one session you can break it up across the day while still achieving the same benefits.

One of the easiest ways to encourage your child to have an active lifestyle is to limit screen time (under 2 years the recommendation is no screen time, 2 – 5 years less than 1 hour, 5 – 18 years less than 2 hours) and remove TVs, computers, and other gaming devices from bedrooms. (10)

More information on The Fat Facts of Screen Time to come in my next blog.

So turn off the TV, turn on some music, get active and get happy!


  • wonderful advice, but just one question. How do you get them to stop?

    Reply


  • This is very true, although I am finding it hard to keep my 18 month old as active as I used to now that I have a 6 week old as well

    Reply


  • My kids love being outside and playing but even on those days when it too hot or trining we are still active- dancing playing inside- sometimes i wish they would slow down :)

    Reply


  • Great article. I love how it shows that physical activity is also very important in bonding family relationships. A family that plays together stays together!

    Reply

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