Why we need to take 60 minutes every day to get children active

Fewer than one in five young people meet the recommended 60 active minutes every day, most recent statistics show. But how well known is it that this is the amount of exercise children should be getting every day?
National Obesity Awareness Week

On National Obesity Awareness Week, Chris Wright blogs about the importance of sport, physical activity and PE in supporting a healthier generation.

As the NHS recently revealed its Long-Term Plan to address the needs of an ageing population and ensure it is fit for the future, it was frustrating to see there was little mention of the need to address inactivity as one of the biggest causes of future ill-health. It saddens me that we are increasingly hearing stories of young people undergoing hip replacements, children as young as 8 contracting type 2 diabetes and young people at breaking point with mental health struggles yet we are not addressing the fundamentals of improving positive lifestyle choices. We are seeing cuts to PE time on the curriculum, school reducing active play and sport during and after school, parents restricting children’s movement from a very young age and increasing access to screen media as the activity of choice.

Time for reflection

National Obesity Awareness Week is undoubtedly a time for action and to add as many voices as possible to one of the biggest epidemics for young lives of our time, but it is also a time to reflect and to ask the vital question – ‘why we are yet to see an upward trend in a more active generation’.

Celebrities, parents, schools, the sport and leisure industry and government all have a role to play in addressing and increasing childhood activity to help impact on rising obesity.

We are getting smarter and innovating with new ideas to reach more young people through creative means. Take a look at some of the below initiatives:

  • Public Health England’s Activity Passport resource
  • Resources for primary and secondary schools to help children and young people understand the importance of PE and how what is learnt in school can be used for wider life skills.
  • Initiatives like Nike’s Active Kids Do Better programme
  • BBC Super Movers
  • Using children’s love for the Star Wars franchise to get them active through Change4Life’s Train Like a Jedi activities

While healthier diets are part of the solution, it is vital that we find ways to get children more active. The NHS recommends that children aged 5 to 18-years-old should do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day to maintain a basic level of health. But it begs the question if it is a widely known fact among parents and carers of children if they know how much activity children should be getting a day or how important it is to their future health. Did you know for pre-school children the recommended time for being active is 180 minutes?

Primary PE and Sport Premium

With millions of pounds generated from the sugar tax through the UK soft drinks industry, some good is coming from our sweet tooth by investing the money back into schools. We know that the funding will continue into the 2018/19 academic year but beyond that the future of this funding is not secure. Schools are free to choose how to spend the investment but must use it to make additional and sustainable improvements to the quality of PE and sport they offer. As a charity, we are seeking to support schools over the coming months to ensure they can maintain the impact that the funding has made and thus ensure there’s sustainable, high-quality PE, school sport and physical activity beyond the life of the funding which in turn will help to sustain activity levels.

I am sure I speak for many when I say I want children to be habitually active. Not just in PE, during after school sport and walking to school, but all day every day. Playing outside, active breaks, climbing the stairs, bike rides, football in the street; it sounds like the halcyon days, but we have lost a love of play and sport that is being overtaken by busy lives and technology. Being active for at least 60 minutes a day is linked to better general health, stronger bones and muscles, and higher levels of self-esteem and there is no surprise this is where we are seeing the biggest declines in children’s wellbeing linked to inactivity.

Healthy active habits for life

Research has shown us time again that physical activity boosts mental wellbeing, reduces anxiety and improves mood. As a parent of three I am determined my children live an active lifestyle and create lifelong habits. We need to change the sedentary norm and create a new norm for our children where they get their 5-a-day, are supported to make better choices with regards to sugar and are encouraged to be more active.

We need to encourage healthy active habits for life, that are born out of engagement in early-years settings. We must do more to meet the needs of young people and offer solutions to overcome socio-economic factors, such as poor diet and lack of understanding of how to keep healthy.

This week, we are urging parents, guardians, schools and teachers, to do all they can to ensure children get 60 minutes of activity every day – whether that is through active travel, active classrooms or being active long after the school bell rings.

We want to help create a future where the life-changing benefits that come from play and sport are understood and being accessed by every child.

You can read our response to Sport England's Active Lives Children & Young People Report.