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Helping children move and play

11th July 2016

A guest blog by Esther Hope from the British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health on the health and developmental benefits of physically active play for the under 5s.  This is very much in the Public Health agenda on childhood obesity – and links to some of our current work around Healthy Weight, Health Nutrition champions training and also to our community walking groups for parents, Ready Steady Mums.

Esther Hope, British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health

Esther Hope, British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health


Being active regularly is good for all of us, but for the under-fives it can be vital to their future health and wellbeing. Ninety-one percent of children aged 2-4 are currently not meeting the UK physical activity guidelines for their age group of three hours of activity a day. This means that they are missing opportunities to positively benefit their health and establish healthy behaviours that carry on into adulthood.

Being physically active at a young age is proven to support brain and muscular development, as well as promote emotional wellbeing and develop social and cognitive skills.

Physical activity is essential to developing more than just physical skills. It contributes to developing skills you might not consider to be particularly active, for example writing. Physical activity can help to develop the larger muscle groups such as the arms and shoulders; a young child needs to have developed strength and control in these areas to be able hold a pencil and write neatly.

So how can we get our youngest generation more active?

From parents to health visitors and nursery workers to policy makers we all have a part to play in getting little ones on the move. With this age group being active doesn’t need to be complicated, it’s just about allowing young children the time and space for active play and to explore their own environments.

What about parents?

Parents are the best role models their children can have. Setting an active example by joining in with their children’s play and being active themselves will encourage their children to be active – and we know that active children become active adults. And remember that most of all playing and being active is great fun!

How can we help you?

To help support practitioners working with parents the British Heart Foundation National Centre has produced leaflets that provide useful tips and ideas for parents on the sorts of things they could do to get their children more active. It could be active games like hide and seek, dancing to music or collecting objects like leaves or pebbles.

There are two leaflets, one for activities with young children who can walk and one for babies who cannot yet. Help your baby move and play and Help your child move and play are both available to order free of charge from the British Heart Foundation.

To update your knowledge of the benefits of physical activity for the under-fives, download our booklets for practitioners which summarise activity guidelines for this age group.

Our manifesto for physical activity in the early years The Best Start in Life calls on government to make policy changes to ensure physical activity for the under-fives is supported at home, in early years settings and in the community. To find out more and support the manifesto visit www.bhfactive.org.uk/beststart