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Babies begin exploring through movement even before birth. And as a child learns to reach, crawl, and walk, the possibilities just keep expanding!
At County Durham Sport, we want children to lead healthy, active lives. We wanted an evidence-based understanding of how being active benefits children in the crucial early years between birth and 5 years. To help us, we hosted PhD Researcher Sophie Phillips (Durham University, Sport and Exercise Sciences) to review academic research on the benefits of physical activity for children under 5 years.
The research was clear – being physically active supports children to develop physical literacy, motor skills, healthy blood pressure, and physical fitness.
But the benefits extend far beyond the obvious! In the early years, physical activity also has benefits for language development, creativity, social and emotional skills, and bone health.
Importantly, children don’t necessarily need structured or organised sporting activities, but can achieve activity in a variety of ways.
For infants, tummy time, reaching, and rolling over all count towards the physical activity needed for healthy development. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, more structured games and activities are possible. Things like swimming, football, or dance classes can all be great fun and very beneficial – but children can also be active through informal, creative play. Or even through active travel – walking to get to the shops, the park, or to visit family helps children to be physically active. Playing outdoors can be especially beneficial, giving children the chance to explore and connect with nature.
Interestingly, the research is less clear when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight – with mixed findings in this area. For adults, being active is so important for weight management. Managing weight is often a key motivator both for individuals getting active, and for public health policy makers. However, in the early years (0-5 years) the wider benefits to children’s physical, cognitive, and social development might be a more positive focus when promoting movement.
“The work Sophie undertook in her time with CDS has helped us to explore completely new areas of work for the organisation as we look to lay solid foundations moving forward to promote physical activity, good health and well-being and positive experiences for young children and families. Sophie has allowed us to break new ground in terms of our work with children and young people and it is hoped the valuable connections and partnerships she made will continue to serve us well over the coming years.”
(Joe Armstrong, Children and Young People Programme Coordinator)
All children can be active in their own way, simply by doing what children do best – playing! Let’s Get Little Ones Moving to set them up for a happy, healthy future.
Posted on 16th August 2021