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Be Active

It is essential to encourage all children and young people to be physically active.

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It is essential to encourage all children and young people to be physically active. Physical activity can enhance quality of life and self-esteem, help children and young people avoid becoming overweight or obese and, for underweight children and young people, improve appetites. It is essential for optimal growth and development in children and young people.

It is generally agreed that children and young people are now less active than previous generations. This is due to a number of factors, including time spent watching television, playing video games or restrictions on children being able to walk to school or play freely outside.

People who are inactive have lower energy needs and will need less food to maintain their body weight. If less food is eaten, it becomes much harder to get all the nutrients needed for good health. If they eat more than they burn, they put on weight. Obesity in children is difficult to treat as care must be taken to maintain growth and development. Overweight children and young people should be encouraged to increase their activity levels.

Carers and parents play a vital role in shaping what their children think about physical activity and therefore how much they do. Sharing an activity can also help you spend more quality time with the child. Easier said than done, right? Wrong! Encouraging children and young people to be active and play games doesn’t have to be costly, all you need is a little imagination and lots of enthusiasm!

Activity helps children and young people to:

  • feel good about themselves
  • have good mental well-being
  • sleep well at night
  • listen and learn at school
  • control their weight
  • grow up healthy and strong
  • meet new friends
  • reduce anxiety and stress
  • manage their behaviour Express themselves

How much activity?

To improve health, experts recommend that all children and young people do a minimum of one hour of moderate physical activity (such as cycling and playground activities) every day. Don’t panic! This may sound like a lot but it doesn’t all have to be done at once. It can be spread over the whole day in manageable 10-15-, or 20-minute slots.

Remember that building young people’s confidence and competence is important. Encouraging them to be active in as many ways as possible can be a great help - the more they do, the better they will become.

Although doing sport at school is a great help, time limits mean that not all the physical activity the child needs can be taken during school hours. Encouraging children and young people to keep active at their foster or residential home, especially at weekends, is the best way to ensure they get all the regular daily activity they need. Just making a few small changes can make a really big difference. The easiest way to be active every day is to make it part of your daily routine, a bit like brushing your teeth.

What can you do to help?

  1. Be an active role model and plan to do some activities together. Make time each week to be active and have fun as a family e.g. cycling, go for a walk, play frisbee, have a kick about. Any changes should focus on ‘activity for everyone’ as part of a family lifestyle.
  2. Challenge! Children love a challenge; and a great way to motivate the child is to set them a task. For best results, set it realistically within their limits and remember to keep it fun.
  3. Encourage the child to ‘have a go’ at lots of different activities. Variety is the spice of life, so encourage the children to find new ways to keep active. There are lots of different ways to exercise, including trampolining, circus skills and Irish dancing.
  4. Help to practise basic skills. These are the essential that help to form the basis for future participation in physical activity and sport; e.g. running, jumping, throwing, catching; and other skills such as balance, agility and coordination.
  5. Praise and reward effort. Praise the child when they are being active. Be positive about accomplishments, big and small; and remember to recognise and reward persistence and ‘the taking part’.
  6. Find active ‘alternatives’ for everyday jobs

Try to swap inactive behaviours for active ones; e.g. watching TV without the remote control, walking with your child to school instead of driving them, parking further away at the supermarket rather than the usual spot. Get off the bus a stop early. Add all these small changes together and you get a really big difference.

Some ideas to inspire and encourage children and young people to be active:

  • ask the child what activities they like doing and why, so that you can think of alternatives when the child says ‘I’m bored’; e.g. bat and ball
  • look in your local area for fun activities and sports clubs that children and young people can get involved in outside school. If they try their hand at water polo, climbing or fencing, for example, they may just discover hidden talents
  • help the child learn how to ride a bike
  • if you can, buy some basic pieces of equipment; e.g. balls, skipping rope or hoop to practise key skills, and encourage children and young people to organise their own activities
  • teach the child some of the more traditional games you used to play when you were a child; e.g. skipping rhymes. The old ones are the best


Remember that there are five ways to get your five a day – vegetables or fruits can be fresh, frozen, dried, juiced or tinned (in juice or water with no added salt or sugar). Remember that one small glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100% fruit juice or smoothie and one portion of dried fruit (around 30g) can count towards one of your five a day, bot only once a day however much you drink. Both should be consumed at mealtimes to reduce the risk of dental caries.


For more ideas and inspirations download the BHF booklet                 

Advice on how to increase activity can be found on the Change 4 Life website

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