Conor McLean: Keeping children active is the route to better health – physical and mental

Children need to move and play every day; being physically active helps children build and maintain good health. So, how active should children be?

Even before they begin to crawl, babies can be encouraged to be active by reaching and grasping, pulling and pushing, moving their head, body and limbs during daily routines, floor play or tummy time to develop the motor skills they need to get moving.

Once children can walk unaided, they need to be active for three hours every day, up to five years. This can include light activity like standing up, moving around, rolling and playing; as well as more energetic activities like skipping, hopping, running and jumping. Active play is the best way to get this age group moving and includes activities like using a climbing frame, riding a bike, playing in water and ball games.

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Children and young people aged five to 18 need to do at least one hour of physical activity every day. This should include a mixture of moderate activity such as cycling and playground activities, to vigorous activity like running and jumping, gymnastics, martial arts and football on at least three days a week.

The guidelines are clear, but the reality is that it’s hard to ensure children are as active as they should be. Currently, one in three children do less than 30 minutes activity per day, which isn’t enough to ensure a healthy and happy child. Here are my tips on how you can encourage your children to be active today for a healthier future:

– Make it fun – adventures and games will capture your child’s imagination.

– Try different activities, games and sports to help them find a sport or active hobby they love.

– Play with your child and get active as a family.

– Turn off TVs and screens and get moving instead.

– Provide active toys like balls, jump ropes, roller skates or bikes so they enjoy more active play.

– Get them active with their friends

– Ditch the car and walk whenever possible; it’s completely free.

– Take them outdoors to a park where they can ride their bikes, climb trees or kick around a football safely.

– Make exercise a reward to be enjoyed. Occasional treats are fine, but if we reward a job well done with ice cream or junk food, then we are reinforcing bad habits. Instead, reward them with extra playtime outdoors or a trip to soft play.

If you need inspiration to get your child active, Edinburgh Leisure is on hand. As a charity, we’re dedicated to creating opportunities to help you and your children lead more active, healthy lives. With over 30 venues across the city, we offer a huge range of activities suitable for all ages and stages.

Soft play keeps children active and entertained and they’ll love the world of adventure that awaits at Clambers at The Royal Commonwealth Pool, Tumbles at Portobello and the newly refurbished Scrambles at EICA:Ratho. Suitable for children up to 10 years old, we offer dedicated baby, toddler and junior zones ensuring everyone has a safe and enjoyable time.

Edinburgh Leisure is also the biggest provider of sports coaching in the city and it’s a great way to get your children active, whilst teaching them new skills, building confidence and having some fun. Whether they want to try their hand at swimming, climbing, gymnastics or tennis, we’ve got it covered.

Teenagers may be looking for a bit more independence, so sign them up for NRG sessions at their local gym, where qualified instructors show them how to use the equipment safely. Alternatively, they could come along to ‘Open All Hours’ on Friday nights between 7pm and 9pm. They can, go swimming, to the gym, participate in a dance session, enjoy team sports or hang out with their friends for just £1. For more information visit

If you have a child ‘above the healthy weight range’ and are needing more specific support, then Get Going, a family healthy lifestyle programme run by Edinburgh Leisure and funded by NHS Lothian, may provide the extra guidance you require.

Get Going runs over nine weeks and offers support to help children (5-11 years) and young people (12-17 years) to get active, eat well and achieve a healthier weight. The emphasis is on fun and feeling good. It’s about getting active as a family and working together to make small lifestyle changes. Parents will have the chance to share ideas with support and guidance from a Child Healthy Lifestyle coach, while children gain from the social benefits that come from making friends and participating in fun active games. For more information about joining Get Going, contact 0131 458 2260 or email [email protected]

Conor McLean is a Health Development Officer with Edinburgh Leisure, helping families get active through the Get Going project.