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Exercise and children: how much is enough?

The importance of exercise in reducing the risk of major illnesses, from heart disease to cancer and stroke, is well documented. But according to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), research also suggests that inactive kids are likely to become inactive in adulthood.

children using outdoor gym equipment

1st June 2023

GOSH stresses the other health benefits of exercising in one’s youth, from building stronger muscles, bones and heart to improving fitness, balance and posture. 

Equally, it cites the non-physical benefits, including enhanced concentration, sleep and self-esteem, reduced stress, and potentially better academic performance. 

One study, led by Bristol University, whose findings were published this spring, found that, by summer 2022, just over two-fifths (41%) of children in the UK met the NHS recommended physical activity guidelines of an average of one daily hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity. 

This is an increase from 37% in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it does mean that the majority of young people in this country (59%) were still falling short of the government guidelines. 

The same study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, showed that children are more sedentary during the week since the ending of lockdown rules, and on average are inactive for 13 minutes longer a day. 


What are the NHS guidelines for children’s exercise? 

According to the NHS, children and young people aged between five and 18 should do two kinds of physical activity every week – aerobic exercise plus another regime to strengthen bones and muscles.  (A routine like this will also help develop movement skills.) 

The guidelines recommend an average of a minimum of one hour of moderate or vigorous exercise every day across the week, and participation in different types and intensities of physical activities. 

It’s also a good idea to reduce the amount of time youngsters spend being inactive, and to break up the day with bursts of activity. 


What can be classed as moderate activity for children?

Even activities which are moderate in their intensity will increase heart rate and breathing speed. If someone can talk but not sing, that’s a good indication they’re working out at moderate intensity. 

Examples of suggested activities include: 

  • Walking the dog or to school 
  • Jumping and catching or running around in the playground
  • PE lessons
  • Sports such as tennis or football 
  • Skipping
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Rollerblading and skateboarding


What about bone and muscle-strengthening activity?

There are a number of things children can do to help this strengthening, including gymnastics, football, jumping and martial arts. Equally, there are the classic exercises like press-ups and sit-ups, plus those using weight machines, exercise bands or handheld weights. 

Even children, toddlers and babies aged five or younger should be encouraged to be as active as possible so that they get moving – and fit for life. Pre-schoolers, for example, should do 180 minutes of physical activity throughout the day, including outdoor play. Read more about the NHS advice for this age group.


How can we help children exercise more regularly

So it’s a given that exercise brings young people myriad benefits. But working out al fresco adds a number of other advantages, including for wellbeing. 

At Fresh Air Fitness, we are a leading supplier of outdoor gym equipment for open-air gyms, and our clients include primary and secondary schools, councils and others. Our offering includes equipment suitable for those with disabilities or Special Educational Needs. 

Why not take a look at our latest offers here

Or download some of our many resources, including PE circuit classes and PE lesson planners.

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