In the wake of declining rates of childhood fitness levels and an inactivity pandemic set to shatter the public health balance sheet, focusing on the role that the family unit has to play in getting kids active in and around the home before they reach school age should be an easy decision. But in recent years, the steady dip in the proportion of young children who regularly enjoy exercise has continued, with no signs of slowing down.
Many of the recent government attempts to get children more active have been focused on the school setting, where the majority of children still have their most meaningful, structured sporting and physical activity experiences.
However, there’s a large body of research that says the home is an integral first-stage environment for young children to learn, develop and improve the basic physical competencies such as throwing and catching – all as part of a healthy, happy childhood.
ukactive has therefore joined forces with academic researchers and Judy Murray to deliver a report that sets out the true extent of childhood inactivity in the UK, and the steps that could be taken to reduce it by supporting parents to take the lead through active play in the home.
Released this month, the report – Start Young, Stay Active – offers a compelling case for early years physical activity to parents, teachers, family units and policymakers, with the aim of garnering additional support structures for parents to enable physical activity to become an intrinsic part of their children’s lives.
The report recommends a variety of measures that could be taken to embed physical activity into the lives of children and families away from the school environment. The idea of introducing physical education into the homework curriculum, drawing a thread of collaboration between teachers and parents, is just one idea.
As Murray notes: “It’s vital that parents encourage and foster an environment where activity is considered important, but it’s also vital for schools, sports providers and authorities to give parents the tools they need to instigate this.”
The long-term benefits of an active childhood are well documented. Studies have shown that more active children are more likely to turn into happy, active adults, less likely to develop psychological wellbeing issues and more likely to be free from chronic illness.
This new ukactive report argues that, where exercise becomes habitual – established before children even come to identify movement as being equivalent to exercise – we’re onto a winning streak. It’s this ‘cradle to grave’ approach of physical activity where significant health and wellbeing gains are made.
There’s an ever-growing need for more research and analysis when it comes to the effects of the home environment on children and young people’s attitudes to physical activity as they move through life. Despite being data-poor, the evidence we do have suggests that a child’s appetite for physical activity and aptitude for developing the associated skills grows into lasting behavioural habits with early-age exposure and the willing involvement of parents and other family members.
ukactive, alongside Judy Murray, urges families, schools and anyone who may influence how much children move at home to consider the report findings. The onus is on all of us to help families ensure that children have ample opportunity to grow up with an active lifestyle.