with Helen Connolly
Commissioner for Children & Young People
Given childhood is the most sensitive period of human development, it is particularly important that physical activity in children and young people be promoted from a young age. Beyond the clear benefits of regular exercise in developing physical literacy and fitness, we know that keeping children and young people physically active offers long-term prevention of chronic disease. Many studies also now highlight the clear connection between regular physical activity and mental health and wellbeing.
Experts tell us that even as little as 20 minutes of exercise per day helps children to concentrate and engage better with their learning. It also improves their cognitive performance and helps build their confidence and self-esteem. For children aged 5–17 years the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommends an accumulation of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. In Australia, however, research shows that most children and young people do not achieve this minimum level. Currently less than one quarter of South Australian children and young people report being engaged in an hour of daily exercise making our children some of the least active in the world.
Primary-school aged children generally have active days. They play physical games or run around school grounds during recess and lunch, and they’re able to be more active in class time as well. Younger children too, are often encouraged to participate in active, outside play. As kids get older, however, participation in sports and physical activity drops off significantly. Recess and lunch breaks are more likely to be spent hanging out with friends or engaged in activities that don’t involve physical or sport related activities, and although there are young people who do commit to extracurricular school sport or club activities, the majority do not.
Children and young people require positive encouragement and a gentle nudge toward regular physical activity, ideally from a young age. Positive encouragement from parents is vital to their enjoyment and regular participation in sport and physical activity.
Young people have told me how much they rely on their parents’ encouragement, positive feedback, and support. They see their parents as a source of inspiration – often choosing sports that follow their parents’ example, sharing in a competitive spirit that fuels their own enthusiasm and passion for the benefits they witness regular physical activity can bring.
In addition to the conversations parents have with their children at home, those they have travelling to and from practice, training, and matches, can have a major impact on the level of physical activity children and young people adopt during childhood and into adolescence.
Setting up regular opportunities and an expectation around involvement in sport or other physical activity from a young age, is key to children and young people becoming interested in and continuing with that activity into adulthood, enjoying all the health and wellbeing benefits this can deliver over a lifetime.
Children and young people link their opportunities to being healthy and staying healthy to the following:
- Friends and sibling influence
- Parental encouragement
- Teacher and coach encouragement
- Time made available in the school day
- School facilities
- School sports opportunities
- The impact of social media and technology
- Active journeys to school
- Easy transport options
Helen Connolly is South Australia’s Commissioner for Children and Young People. To find out more about the work of the Commissioner including access to free resources designed specifically for parents and carers: