Teddy Robinson should be getting three hours of physical activity each day, guidelines show. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
Monique Robinson assumed her four-year-old son Teddy was getting more than enough exercise, comparing him to a border collie that needed to run twice a day.
But when researchers tracked his physical activity for a week, it was a big surprise to discover she was wrong — that he was actually doing less than the nationally-recommended three hours of daily activity for children aged 2-5.
And far from being alone, the Robinsons are in the majority.
The study, led by the University of WA, found two-thirds of children in Teddy’s age group aren’t getting enough physical activity needed for their growth and development.
Monique Robinson was surprised to learn Teddy wasn’t as physically active as he should be. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
Over a two-year period, researchers used activity monitors to track 1,600 children attending Perth childcare centres over the course of a week.
They found toddlers aged 1-2 years were on average getting 150 minutes of daily physical activity, while preschoolers aged 3-5 years were getting 174 minutes.
Over an eight-hour day at early childhood education centres, the activity was 123 minutes for toddlers and 139 minutes for preschoolers.
Australian government guidelines recommend 180 minutes of physical activity each day for 1- to 5-year-olds, noting more is better.
A wake-up call to be more active
Ms Robinson said the study was a wake-up call, because she thought her son was “really, really active” and she had been careful to minimise his screen-time.
“It’s surprising. I thought that Teddy did a lot of running around and that he was meeting the expectations,” she said.
“But actually you don’t realise how often you’re sitting in a car or you’re busy at appointments and different things, so there’s actually a lot more sedentary time than I would have thought.
“I think it’s a good idea just to keep in mind that we need to do a lot of physical activity.”
Ms Robinson says she didn’t realise how much time Teddy spent sedentary. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
UWA lead researcher Hayley Christian said it was concerning so many children were falling short of the national physical activity guidelines.
“Physical activity is not only important for a child’s physical development and fitness, it is important for their brain development and mental health, and helps them to develop socially and emotionally,” she said.
“It is about having fun, moving and playing every day.
“This includes fast-paced activities like riding bikes, dancing and playing hide and seek, as well as slower-paced activities such as making and playing in cubby houses, dress-ups and water play.”
‘Send them outside’: Heart Foundation
Children need a range of physical activity — and lots of it — to keep them fit, strong and healthy. (iStockPhoto: anatols)
The Heart Foundation’s director of cardiovascular health, Trevor Shilton, said the role of parents was critical.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said.
“One of the key pieces of research is send them outside. Kids will find a leaf, they’ll find a stick, they’ll find a pet, a toy and they’ll be active.
“There’s nothing inherent in our children that makes them sedentary. Conversely, sit them in front of a screen and they’ll be sedentary.”
Mr Shilton said there were many ways to motivate children to exercise and to provide physical activity opportunities.
“Perhaps remember at Christmas time that there’s boogie boards and bathers and bats and balls, and not just Xboxes,” he said.
“Active play and physical activity in 2- to 5-year-olds is critical for a healthy future.”