Active school play could reduce children’s sedentary time by nearly 20%

Active play in schools could help to improve children’s basic movement skills and reduce their sedentary time by almost a fifth, according to research at the University of Strathclyde.    

Children at seven primary schools took part in hour-long play sessions divided between activities including catching, throwing and jumping and free play, in which children were allowed to choose whatever they wanted to play.

Outdoor

Participating children had up to two outdoor sessions a week for around six months. By the end of the programme, their periods of sedentary behaviour were found to have decreased by 19%, while activity classed as ‘light intensity’ increased by 16% and ‘moderate to vigorous’ activity was up 3%.

The programme, named Go2Play, is now being rolled out to more than 100 Glasgow City Council primary schools.

The research has been published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports. It follows a previous Strathclyde study which found that any form of active play which improves children’s heart rates can also stimulate better cognitive development and mental health, enhancing performing in the classroom. Another research paper from the University found that physical activity levels in children may start tailing off as early as the age of seven.

Avril Johnstone, a Physical Activity for Health researcher in Strathclyde’s School of Psychological Sciences & Health, led the study. She said: “Encouraging active play is a novel approach to increasing children’s physical activity levels but it has been suggested it could have widespread gains if it’s promoted.

“Unlike other types of physical activity, such as PE or active commuting, active play can be engaged in before, during and after school. The free play parts of the sessions were entirely led by the children; the children were given basic equipment, like balls, tennis racquets, hockey sticks and skipping ropes, but were encouraged to explore the environment and play without adult influence.

“We would hope that these sessions encourage children to be become more active during playtimes and after school. We are currently doing a fuller study in schools in Glasgow City Council which we hope will tell us more. Active play in general is an under-researched area but there is increasing interest in its potential to increase physical activity and develop movement skills, as children can engage in active play every day of the year.”

The research project was funded by Inspiring Scotland. Evaluation of the programme involved the Jeely Piece Club, Parent Action for Safe Play and Healthy Valleys charities and the play workers were supported and trained by social enterprise company Agile CIC.