There is increasing concern about the mental and physical health of children and young people. At the same time there is growing evidence from among health professionals and researchers that play makes a significant contribution to the fitness and wellbeing of children.
Research suggests that given the opportunity, children get wide-ranging exercise as well as significant mental health benefits from freely chosen play. For example:
- climbing develops strength, co-ordination, balance and risk-taking ability, as well as confidence and self-esteem
- running and chasing games develop fitness, stamina and agility
- jumping and running develop bone density
- fantasy play can be a way of children making sense of difficult or distressing aspects of their life
- play can be fun and relaxing, a way of relieving or having time away from anxiety and stress. When playing children and young people do not have to conform to adult agendas.
Children play instinctively whenever they are given the chance, but not all children choose to, or are able to, participate in structured activities. Given the opportunity, the time, and a stimulating and challenging play environment, most children and young people will engage in beneficial physical activity.
Start Active, Stay Active: a report on physical activity from the four home countries' Chief Medical Officers (2011) Department of Health
Physical activity guidelines for early years (under 5s) (2011) Department for Health
Physical activity guidelines for early years (under 5s) - for children who are capable of walking (2011) Department for Health
Physical activity guidelines for children and young people (5 - 18 years) (2011) Department for Health
Making Children's Lives More Active (2004) University College London
Play Deprivation (2003) Bob Hughes for Play Wales
Preventing Childhood Obesity (2005) British Medical Association
The health benefits of play and physical activity for disabled children and young people (2010) KIDS - working with disabled children, young people and their families