Staying active through play

Playing helps children explore, learn about their world and feel happy. Making sure there is time, space and freedom to play indoors and outdoors is a great way of making sure children are moving around and having fun! Also, being active and playing burns energy and helps prevent serious illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer in later life.

Active play

Active play is physical activity with regular bursts of a normal to energetic pace movement, such as crawling, jumping, or running. Playing actively raises children’s heart rate and make them ‘huff and puff’.

How much active play should children have?

The UK Chief Medical Officers recognise the importance of play for children’s development. Their guidelines recommend that children should have as much active play as possible. The overall message is any activity is better than none, and more is better still.

Infants (younger than a year old)

  • Should be physically active several times every day in lots of ways, including interactive floor-based activity, such as crawling.
  • Babies should have at least 30 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day while awake. They should also have chances to reach and grasp, push and pull themselves up independently and roll over.

Toddlers (1-2 years)

  • Toddlers should spend at least 180 minutes (three hours) a day doing lots of different of physical activities, including active and outdoor play, spread throughout the day.

Pre-schoolers (3-4 years) 

  • Pre-schoolers should spend at least 180 minutes (three hours) a day in a variety of physical activities spread throughout the day, including active and outdoor play. More is better and at least 60 minutes should be normal-to-energetic physical activity.

Older children (5-18 years)

  • Children should take part in normal to energetic physical activity for 60 minutes a day. The activities can be spread throughout the day.
  • Children should also take part in some activities that develop movement skills and muscle and bone strength across the week. These activities include hopping, skipping, and swinging on playground equipment using body weight or working against resistance.
  • Children should not spend long periods of time sitting still or not moving. Adults need to help children and teenagers to spend less time doing things like screen-time (watching television, computer use, video games), sitting to read, talk, do homework, or listen to music.

Playing actively outside

Playing outdoors gives children space to run, climb, roll, jump, hide and use up energy. Normal physical activity should make children feel warmer and breathe harder, such as:

  • brisk walking
  • riding a bike
  • rollerblading
  • playground activities.

Energetic activities make talking harder for children, such as:

  • running fast
  • playing tag
  • skipping rope.

Find out more about why play matters

Grab your wellies and coats, let’s play!

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