Physical activity outside school vital for child health

Blog by: Suryakant Tripathi

The study suggests that efforts to increase exercise during the school day will not be enough for children to meet the recommended one hour of physical activity a day, set by the chief medical officer.

Researchers looked at the time Year 4 youngsters (aged 8-9) spent taking part in physical activity outside of school, including after school clubs, playing in the neighbourhood and in the home.

To track the children, the team used accelerometers to measure mean minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity and sedentary time every day for a week.

The key findings from the study, which looked at 1,223 pupils from 47 state-funded primary schools, were:

• Children who attended sport or exercise clubs five days per week were 67 per cent more likely to meet the chief medical officer’s recommendation than those who never attend

• Children who regularly attended after-school physical activity programmes gained around an extra 7.5 minutes of physical activity per day than children who do not attend

• Playing in the neighbourhood or garden was associated with comparable increases in physical activity as attending after-school clubs.

Russ Jago, professor of paediatric physical activity and public health at the University of Bristol, who led the study, said: “This research highlights the importance of physical activity outside of school hours. It is already clear that reaching the recommended physical activity levels solely during school hours is a near-impossible goal.

“Parents should encourage their children to attend after-school clubs, attend community groups and play in their neighbourhood. All four types of activity contribute equally so parents should find the best balance for their children.”

The research was published in BMJ Open and funded by the British Heart Foundation.

“This research should give impetus to parents and teachers to give children opportunities to be physically active throughout the day, whether it’s encouraging them to attend an after-school club or replacing screen time with a run around in the park,” said the foundation’s associate medical director, Dr Mike Knapton.

“Habits developed in childhood can last a lifetime. Encouraging more children to stay active outside of school will undoubtedly improve the future cardiovascular health of our population.”

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