Date Published: 6 July 2011

How to encourage children to more physical activity

Health News from Bristol, England (UK).
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How can children be encouraged to take more exercise

It is widely accepted that physical activity has important benefits for children's physical health and mental well-being but some studies indicate that many children do not meet recommended levels of physical activity. A recent study at Bristol University (England) into the factors that motivate UK children's active play has found that overall physical activity is increased when children have access to green spaces in their neighbourhood.

The research, led by Rowan Brockman, Dr Russell Jago and Professor Ken Fox from Bristol University's Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, involved eleven focus groups comprising 77 children, aged 10- to 11-years from four primary schools. The focus groups looked at factors that motivate, facilitate and limit children's active play, including social and environmental considerations.

They found that children were motivated to engage in active play because they found it enjoyable. The children also valued active play (physical activity) to prevent boredom, to have physical and mental health benefits, and to provide freedom from adult constraint, rules and structure. In summary, the children who participated in the recent study in Bristol were motivated to get involved in physically active play and pursuits to:

  • enjoy themselves
  • avoid boredom
  • for physical and mental health benefits
  • for freedom from adult constraints, rules and structures.

However, their active play was constrained or restricted by the following factors:

  • rainy weather
  • fear of groups of teenagers in play spaces.

Some aspects of the physical environment encouraged and made it easier for children to engage in active play, for example the availability of green spaces and cul-de-sacs. Children's use of mobile phones when playing away from home was reported to alleviate parents' safety fears, and therefore indirectly help to enable and encourage children's active play.

Rowan Brockman, a researcher in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health, said:

" Preventing the decline in physical activity, which occurs around 10- to 11-years of age, is a public health priority. Understanding the factors that help motivate, facilitate and limit active play is fundamental in developing interventions to increase children's physical activity.
_ These findings link in with the London 2012 legacy plans for the 'Places People Play' campaign, to secure future investment for protecting children's outdoor play spaces, such as parks and playing fields.

This study has been funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in BMC Public Health. It is part of a larger project, the Active Play Project (TAPP), which examines the contribution of active play to the overall physical activity of primary school children in the UK.

Source: Bristol University, England (UK)

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