27 October 2015

Early years evidence briefing

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Historically, little research has been conducted to examine the role of physical activity in promoting well-being in the early years. However, there is now increasing interest in this age group reflected by the inclusion of physical activity recommendations for under-fives in the 2011 the joint Chief Medical Officers' guidelines.

This evidence briefing is designed for professionals who require a detailed review of the evidence base available for physical activity and sedentary behaviour in the early years. Focusing exclusively on children under five, this briefing contains information on the physical and psychological importance of physical activity, the factors affecting physical activity and sedentary behaviour levels and the current levels of physical activity. A summary of effective interventions for increasing physical activity and implications for practice are also presented in the briefing.

Brief summary

  • Children under five who can walk should be physically active for 180 minutes (three hours) spread throughout the day, including all activity intensities from light through to vigorous activity.
  • Only 9% of children aged 2-4 years in England meet the physical activity recommendations and 84% participate in less than one hour per day.
  • Physical activity may be beneficial for cardiovascular disease risk factors, weight status, fundamental motor skills, psychosocial wellbeing, cognitive development and school readiness
  • Physical activity in childcare settings should be incorporated throughout the day. Training early years practitioners to integrate physical activity into daily routines is an effective strategy for increasing activity levels.

To increase awareness of physical activity in this age group the we offer an Early Movers Training course designed to help early years practitioners understand the importance of physical activity and create a setting that encourages physical activity. For more information visit our training page

Download: Early years evidence briefing