Introduction

Playing and being physically active is an important part of life for all children. The early development of good habits may lead to healthy behaviours that will last into later years, and regular physical activity in early childhood can impact on immediate and long-term health outcomes. What’s more, most children find it fun to play and be physically active!

Currently, there are many aspects of everyday life in Australia that make it easy to be physically inactive – we rely on cars for transport, use labour-saving devices such as escalators, elevators and remote controls, and television and other screenbased entertainment are among the most popular forms of leisure. This is a cause for concern, because lack of physical activity is linked to lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. The increasing rates of weight problems (overweight and obesity) in childhood can also be related to lower levels of physical activity and increased periods of inactivity in children.

Parents, staff and carers can work together to make physical activity a priority both inside and outside the home. For children five and under, active play is the best form of physical activity. Active play involves all types of play – both indoor and particularly outdoor play, ‘active transport’ (such as walking to a destination, rather than driving or using a stroller) and certain everyday tasks. Children also need some time for quieter activities and ‘down time’.

Active play has physical and health benefits, but it also helps important social, language and brain development.