According to the British Heart Foundation National Centre’s (BHFNC) Early Years Advisory Group, as shockingly few as 9% of children between the ages of two and four are as active as they should be. In what the group calls children’s “vital” years, they are encouraging the incorporation of three hours daily exercise to, according to Loughborough University, “positively benefit their health and establish healthy behaviours that carry on into adulthood”.
Experts claim that, when it comes to exercise, even young children should be treated in the same manner as adults in terms of their needs, as physical activity in children has been proven to have many benefits in terms of their development. This includes the support of brain development, enhancement of bone health and muscular development, as well as having non-physical benefits to the development of social and cognitive skills and emotional wellbeing.
Elaine McNish, the director of BHFNC, states that “it’s vitally important to get it right at the beginning to give children opportunities to play from a young age and develop a lifelong love of being active.” To support this, the BHFNC released a manifesto at the beginning of this year to encourage greater physical activity in children, named The Best Start in Life – a manifesto for physical activity in the early years.
The manifesto calls for four specific areas of awareness in order to introduce the changes they propose. These areas are:
- Raising awareness of the Chief Medical Officer’s physical activity guidelines for the early years among health and education professionals, and families with young children.
- A greater emphasis on physical activity within the curriculum for young children, and clear guidance given to educators on how to achieve this.
- Ensuring the accessibility of safe, exciting physical activity areas and opportunities in the communities of young children.
- The tracking of physical activity levels by health professionals, and co-operation between health professionals and parents in order to increase activity where necessary.
Lisa Young, project manager in prevention and behaviour change at the British Heart Foundation, said, “We know that physical activity is an important component of a healthy lifestyle for everyone and the under-fives are no different.”