Summary Regular physical activity is linked to enhanced health and to reduced risk for all-cause mortality and the development of many chronic diseases in adults.
PDF version Introduction Adequate participation in physical activity during early childhood is considered essential for normal growth and development.
Yet, despite the importance of regular physical activity, objective monitoring studies conducted in North America, Australia and the United Kingdom suggest that young children accumulate relatively small amounts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. This brief review will summarize what is currently known about interventions to promote physical activity in early childhood settings.
Problem Relatively few interventions to promote physical activity in children under 5 have been rigorously evaluated. Research Context Because a large percentage of children under the age of 5 are in some type of regular child care arrangement, intervention studies have been primarily implemented and tested in center-based early childhood education settings.
Other studies have investigated the impact of specific environmental or policy changes on physical activity levels during child care.
Recent Research Results To date, eight studies have employed experimental study designs to evaluate interventions to increase physical activity in young children. Five studies tested the effectiveness of specialized physical activity curricula or movement training programs, while the remaining three studies evaluated the impact of environmental or policy changes on physical activity level.
Two investigations included strategies to improve fundamental movement skills. Children participated in the activity sessions between three and six days per week. The duration of the entire program ranged from 14 weeks to 12 months.
In general, the curriculum-based approaches were not successful in promoting physical activity in young children.
Of the five curriculum-based studies identified, only two reported significant improvements in physical activity. The three studies reporting null findings trained child care staff to implement developmentally-appropriate games and activities that provided opportunities for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and movement skill development.
It is also possible that the interventions were insufficient in length and intensity to significantly change behaviour; however, two of the three studies reported significant reductions in body fatness. Considering the positive impact on fatness, it is possible that the measurement protocols used to quantify physical activity behaviour may not have been sufficiently sensitive to detect changes in physical activity.
Although few in number, studies evaluating environmental or policy interventions to promote physical activity have reported mostly positive findings. The addition of portable playground equipment and training teachers to incorporate physical activity into their usual classroom lessons resulted in significant increases in objectively measured daily physical activity.
Conclusions Relatively few interventions to promote physical activity in children under 5 have been rigorously evaluated. Additionally, training teachers to incorporate movement into the standard classroom curriculum appears to be effective in increasing physical activity levels during the preschool day.
Nevertheless, because these results were obtained in small feasibility studies, such findings require replication in larger cluster randomized trials.
To date, providing curricula that offer opportunities for developmentally-appropriate moderate-to-vigorous active play and fundamental movement skill development has not been effective in promoting physical activity.
It may be that such approaches are simply ineffective and that alternative strategies require exploration. Nonetheless, it should be noted that these studies: Adult-led physical activity programs delivering highly structured exercise training sessions on a daily basis resulted in higher levels of physical activity.
However, it is important to note that these studies were primarily exercise training studies in which physical activity was the factor being changed, not the outcome of the change. Thus, it is questionable whether these findings can be generalized to public health approaches to promoting physical activity in young children.
Implications for Parents, Services and Policy For policy makers and service providers, the extant research literature provides relatively little guidance as to what approaches are effective in promoting physical activity in young children.
The research suggests that training child care staff to increase opportunities for physical activity in the classroom and during recess may be an effective strategy.
From a public health perspective, the focus on child care provider training is particularly attractive, since the trainings could be mandated as a licensure requirement and delivered through existing child care worker education and training networks.
Based on the evidence, policy makers and service providers should be wary of adopting stand-alone curricula offering structured physical activity and movement skill training, as there is currently little evidence to support their effectiveness.
However, it should be noted that structured programs are not likely to do harm to young children; and in practice, such programs may off substantial benefit to children when they are implemented in a responsible, developmentally-appropriate manner.
The development of programs to educate and support parents in this endeavour should therefore be a priority. Resurrecting free play in young children: Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine ; Sustained effect of early physical activity on body fat mass in older children.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine ; Does early physical activity predict body fat change throughout childhood? National Association for Sport and Physical Education. Low levels of objectively measured physical activity in preschoolers in child care. Interventions for increasing physical activity at child care.
Evaluation of a nutrition and physical activity intervention program for family child care homes. Specker B, Binkley T. Randomized trial of physical activity and calcium supplementation on bone mineral content in 3- to 5-year-old children.Physical activity should become as routine a part of their lives as eating and sleeping.
Reassure them that sports such as cycling (always with a helmet), swimming, basketball, jogging, walking briskly, cross country skiing, dancing, aerobics, and soccer, played regularly, are not only fun but can promote health.
Make physical activity part of your family's daily routine by taking family walks or playing active games together. Give your children equipment that encourages physical activity. Take young people to places where they can be active, such as public parks, community baseball fields or basketball courts.
The questions and tips that follow will help you understand what physical skills your 3- to 4-year-old child should be learning. Understanding Physical Development in Preschoolers Make sure your child gets adequate sleep and nutrition to fuel her overall development and activity.
Parents may be able to influence the quality and quantity of physical activity available to their children by advocating for comprehensive, daily physical education in schools and for school and community physical activity programs that promote lifelong physical activity among young people ().
Know. Part of your role as a school-age staff member will be to support the physical development of the children in your care. In order to do this properly, it is important that you understand what types of physical activities are appropriate and necessary for school-age children.
Physical activity and, conversely, sedentary behaviours, affect young children’s physical and cognitive development. This topic aims to increase understanding of the impact of one’s practices on children’s motor skills, psychological well-being, social competence and emotional maturity, and to recommend practices for young children.