A STUDY of 1600 Perth preschoolers aged two to five-years-old found two-thirds were not getting the recommended three hours of daily physical activity needed for their growth and development.
Physical activity is not only important for a child’s physical health but for brain development and mental health as well, says Assoc Professor Hayley Christian at the University of Western Australia.
Knowing how important the first five years of life are, Prof Christian says physical activity intervention must start at an earlier age; in pre-school, not waiting till primary school.
“A lot of the focus is on school readiness but we’re trying to highlight the importance of physical development and the development of the whole child because it all works together,” said Professor Christian.
“A child that develops well physically also does well cognitively.”
The PLAYCE study, led by UWA, tracked the physical activity of 1600 children from more than 100 Perth early childhood education and care services over the past two years.
The researchers attached activity monitoring belts to the children and tracked their activity throughout the day over the course of a week.
On average the majority of participants were doing 160 minutes of physical activity per day.
The Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years, released by the department of health last year, recommends 180 minutes of physical activity per day.
“180 minutes is just where we want to start, more is better, kids do better when they have more, and it’s got to be fun and it’s got to be play based,” said Professor Christian.
The study also found only 16 per cent of early childhood education and care services had a written physical activity policy in place.
“It is concerning that so many young children are falling short of meeting national physical activity guidelines,” Professor Christian said.
The public health expert says the key message is just to keep a child moving.
It doesn’t have to be intense exercise, rather lighter intensity, play-based activities.
“Anything but sitting still, definitely not sitting in front of a screen,” said Professor Christian.
“It is about having fun – moving and playing every day. This includes fast-paced activities like riding bikes, dancing and playing hide and seek, as well as slower-paced activities such as making and playing in cubby houses, dress-ups and water play.”