Sport and Health Unite LogoSport and Health Unite aims to enrich the lives of children and young people by providing families and organisations with sport and health solutions. Here their Director Dr Andy Williamson writes the first in a series of blogs.

There is growing public health concern over the effects that sedentary lifestyles are having on the health of children and young people. Current Government guidelines recommend that for general health, children and young people aged between 5–18 years should accumulate a total of at least 60 minutes of at least moderate intensity activity every day . This should include activities to improve bone health, muscle strength and flexibility at least twice a week. However, it is estimated that only 32% of boys and 24% of girls meet the government’s recommendations. Whether this obesity and inactivity is caused by the popularity of video games or the declining hours of physical education in schools, it is a wake-up call for everyone. Thankfully, there are ways of reversing this growing trend and helping our children to enjoy daily exercise and outdoor activities, which they love given the opportunity.

So why is exercise or physical activity important for my child? Increased physical activity has been associated with an increased life expectancy and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. It produces overall physical, psychological and social benefits. Inactive children are likely to become inactive adults. Physical activity helps with controlling weight, reducing blood pressure, raising HDL ("good") cholesterol, reducing the risk of diabetes and some kinds of cancer, and improved psychological well-being, including gaining more self-confidence and higher self-esteem.

And what are the benefits of my child being active for me as a parent? The most obvious are that of a more stable mood pattern, improved behaviour and increased self-esteem. It also results in tiredness which promotes a healthy sleep pattern and allows for a child to be more mentally alert for school and gives us parents some time to rest and recuperate as well.

So how do I promote physical activity in my child? It should be increased by reducing sedentary time (e.g., watching television, playing computer video games or talking on the phone). It should be fun for children and parents should be role models for active lifestyles. For children, exercise can mean playing as well as the more formalised physical activities, such as during PE at school, football practice or dance lessons. Kids Get Active with Parachute

But it’s not just about the physical side there are emotional benefits of exercise too! Research on anxiety and depression shows that exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood. Exercise releases those feel-good brain chemicals, neurotransmitters and endorphins, while at the same time reducing the immune system chemicals that can exacerbate depression. Moderate, fun-oriented exercise literally burns off excess harmful hormones and, at the same time, increases the release of beneficial ones.Physical activity increases body temperature, which may have a calming effect. Exercise enhances the brain’s metabolism. Studies show that active children have improved memory as a result of better brain function! Perhaps most importantly, physical activity develops children’s self-esteem and confidence. Their ability to overcome difficult situations improves and they simply enjoy a better, sunnier outlook on life.

Thirty to sixty minutes of exercise each day is enough to strengthen bones and muscles and prevent children from gaining too much weight. Parents can set a good example by being active themselves. Exercising together can be fun for everyone and be good family bonding time. Whilst competitive sports can help kids stay physically active, walking or biking to school, bowling, dancing and swimming are other good and fun ways for kids to get exercise.