Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Physical Activity

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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Physical activity, as defined by the World Health Organization, is any movement of the body, performed by the skeletal muscles, that requires energy. Physical activity does not need to be structured, formalized or organized. It is easily attainable because if one’s body is moving, energy is being expended and physical activity is being done (WHO, 2013a). Children who do regular physical activity are rewarded with many physical and mental health benefits (Warburton et al. 2006). Children can be physically active in a number of ways: recreational activities, actively transporting, playing sports and doing chores. Physical activity strengthens muscles, improves balance and coordination, improves body composition and enhances motor skills (Barnett, 2011; Landry & Driscoll, 2012; Shenouda, Gabel & Timmons, 2011). Children engaging in regular physical activity will display improved motor ability (Wrotniak, Epstein, Dorn, Jones & Kondilis, 2006) which leads to an increased participation in physical activity (Williams et al., 2012), which leads to further health benefits! These numerous benefits of physical activity all work together in improving the movement experiences for children and their overall health, thus reducing their risk of future chronic diseases (Warburton et al., 2006; Williams et al., 2012).



According to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, physical activity is be broken down into two sub-categories, moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity, that reflect the intensity that one feels when performing the actions or movements (CSEP,2014).


Moderate-intensity physical activity is classified as activities, actions, or movements that cause one to experience and increase in respiratory rate and an increase in heart beat. An effective way to interpret this intensity is by having the ability to talk, but not being able to sing while doing an activity (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2012). Some common examples of moderate-intensity activities are biking, skateboarding, walking quickly, raking leaves and playing hop-scotch (WHO, 2014b).


Vigorous-intensity physical activity is defined as activities, actions or movements that cause a sharp increase in respiratory rate and heart beat. When one is doing a vigorous-intensity activity, they will only be able to speak a couple words without taking a breath (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2012). Some examples of vigorous intensity activities are playing competitive sports, swimming quickly and running (WHO, 2014b).

How Much Physical Activity is Recommended/Needed

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines state that children ages 5-11 should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity each day. Furthermore, vigorous-intensity activities should be done at least three days per week and activities that strengthen muscle and bone must be done at least three days per week (CSEP, 2014). Significant health benefits are attained by following these recommendations (Warburton, 2006).

Benefits of Regular Physical Activity

Performing regular physical activity is essential for maintaining and improving overall health and increasing quality of life (Warburton et al. 2006). It is associated with numerous health benefits including the prevention of chronic diseases, and the enhancement of one’s cardiovascular, aerobic and muscular fitness (Warburton et al., 2006; Landry& Driscoll, 2012). Regular physical activity is also said to positively affect one’s psychological state and cognitive ability (Aberg et al., 2009; Dunn et al., 2001). Physical activity helps establish motor programs and strengthens motor skills (Barnett, 2011). It is imperative that children start a routine of regular physical activity because exercise habits in childhood often determine those in adulthood (Landry& Driscoll, 2012).

Prevention of Obesity and Chronic Diseases

According to Warburton et al., “regular physical activity is the primary and secondary prevention of chronic diseases.” These include cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporoses and obesity. There is a direct correlation between physical activity and overall health (2006). Evidence suggests that the relationship between cardiovascular disease and physical fitness is very similar in children and adults (Harsha, 1995). With an increasing percentage of sedentary children being classified as overweight or obese, more children are at risk for developing cardiovascular disease as they age (Roberts, Shields, de Groh, Aziz & Gilbert, 2012). Childhood obesity can set in at a young age and thankfully, physical activity initiated early enough can slow down the proliferation of fat cells (Gilliam, 1976). Regular physical activity will protect children from developing health complications as they age and it will improve their overall health and allow them to live a higher quality of life (Landry& Driscoll, 2012).


Cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2013b). However, people who are more physically active as children have a much lower risk for developing cardiovascular complications. When unfit children establish a 15% increase in their physical activity levels, their risk of developing CVD as an adults is reduced by 33% (Anderssen et al., 2007)! Increased levels of physical activity as children results in higher cardio-respiratory fitness, healthier body composition and improved blood lipid levels. These factors work together in decreasing one’s risk of developing CVD as an adult (Landry & Driscoll, 2012).

Motor Development

A major benefit for children participating in physical activity is the development of their gross motor skills (Barnett,2011). Motor skills are categorized into three types: locomotor, object control and stability and balance. Well developed motor skills allow more effective movements and interactions within the external environment (Shenouda, Gabel & Timmons, 2011). Locomotor skills are those that involve moving the body, such as walking, running, skipping etc. Object control skills allow the body to interact with other objects, such as throwing, kicking and catching. Stability and balance skills allow the body to remain at equilibrium and upright relative to its surroundings. In order to attain these skills, children need to experience them first-hand through moving around in the external environment. Physical activity is an excellent avenue to experience these movements. Research has shown that children who regularly perform moderate-to vigorous-intensity physical activity will have higher motor skills than those who do not (Shenouda, Gabel & Timmons, 2011). When children are physically active, they are utilizing and developing their motor skills (Barnett,2011). Recent studies state that children who have well-developed motor skills are more likely to engage in physical activity than those who have under-developed motor skills (Williams et al., 2012; Wrotniak, Epstein, Dorn, Jones & Kondilis, 2006). Therefore motor skills help children to effectively interact with the environment and act as a predictor of physical activity levels (Shenouda, Gabel & Timmons, 2011; Williams et al., 2012; Wrotniak, Epstein, Dorn, Jones & Kondilis, 2006).


A recent study by Aberg et al. reports that aerobic fitness gained by regular physical activity is linked to cognitive function later on in life (2009). These results agree with other studies that state that children who engage in moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity on a regular basis will do better in school, have better concentration and learn more efficiently (Landry& Driscoll, 2012; CSEP, 2014).


Children who regularly do physical activity will improve their muscular fitness, strength, and endurance (Warburton et al., 2006; CSEP, 2014). Children with increased levels of muscular fitness will have decreased risks of sports injuries (Landry & Driscoll, 2012) and will be able to perform at a higher level on their sports teams. Stronger, more resilient muscles will improve children’s locomotor abilities and allow them to perform physical activity for longer durations (Shenouda, Gabel & Timmons, 2011). Warburton et al. states that improved musculoskeletal fitness is related to an enhancement of one’s overall health and a decline in the risk of future chronic disease and disability (2001).

Psychological and Social

Children who routinely perform physical activity will develop increased self-esteem and a more positive outlook on life (CSEP, 2014). Contributing factors to these outcomes are reduced stress, anxiety and depression. Physical activity helps children become more confident in their abilities and allows them to discover more about themselves (Dunn et al. 2001). In addition, physical activity is a facilitator to social interaction. Children that are more physically active have more opportunities to make new friends and interact with other people. When children play with their friends or join a sports team they increase their social skills and physical fitness levels (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2012).

Physical Inactivity Risks

Inactive children are at risk for many health complications in the present and later on as they age. Data from the World Health Organization states that physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for death throughout the world as well as a major contributing factor of cancer, diabetes and CVD (WHO, 2014a). Furthermore, Jacka et al. report that lower levels of physical activity in childhood are tied to depression in adulthood. Child physical inactivity also results in delayed gross motor skill development, delayed social development, compromised weight management (Copeland, Sherman, Kendeigh, Kalkwarf, & Saelens, 2012), insulin resistance, higher blood lipid levels and higher blood pressure (Andersen et al., 2006).

Barriers to Physical Activity

Barriers are environmental, structural, systemic, social and personal factors that prevent one from participating in an activity, or make such participation difficult to achieve (Samuhel-Corewyn, 2013). Significant barriers exist that makes participation in physical activity difficult for some children. These barriers inhibit a child from gaining health benefits from physical activity and prevent the child from taking part in valuable movement experiences that will further develop their motor skills (Copeland, Sherman, Kendeigh, Kalkwarf, & Saelens, 2012).

Socio-Economic Factors

Children of low socioeconomic status families are at a greater risk of insufficient physical activity levels compared to more fortunate families. Safety, time and financial status are all contributing factors to this barrier (LeBoeuf, 2014). For parents living in low-income neighbourhoods, the safety of their children is a major concern. As a result, parents may be unwilling to allow their children to engage in outdoor physical activity on a regular basis. These spatial restrictions for play time significantly limit the total physical activity that a child may experience (Lipman et al., 2011). In addition, families of low socioeconomic status may not be able to financially support their child’s choice of physical activity. Many organized sports require fees and specialized equipment, such as soccer cleats or basketball shoes, which can be costly (Copeland et al., 2009). To support their families, parents of lower socioeconomic status may have to work extended hours and therefore will have less time to facilitate their child’s physical activity. As a result, children would have to spend the majority of their free time at daycare or at after school programs. If the daycare or after school program do not have the appropriate resources, space or equipment to enable physical activity, the child’s activity and development needs would not be met (Copeland et al., 2012). Unfortunately, children with limited access to physical activity have an increased risk of becoming overweight, experiencing delayed motor development and having other health complications (Lipman et al., 2011; (Copeland, Sherman, Kendeigh, Kalkwarf, & Saelens, 2012).


Children with obesity face greater challenges in achieving the recommended daily amount of physical activity. Excess weight amplifies body deconditioning and adds to exercise intolerance (Shim et al., 2013). Children with excess weight also face social barriers to physical activity. Overweight and obese children are often discouraged by their bodies and often face similar discouraging attitudes from their peers (Zabinski, Saelens, Stein, Hayden-Wade, & Wilfley, 2012). These negative attitudes result in decreased levels of physical activity, further deconditioning and increased health risks (Shim et al., 2013).

Structural and Systemic

In today’s society, children are performing less active transport than in the past. Instead of walking or cycling to destinations, children are being driven more often which increases their sedentary time and limits their activity. In addition, the school systems are implementing less mandatory physical activity classes and children are spending more time being sedentary. There is a shift from active play to more sedentary play on computers and videogames (Leboeuf, 2014). These factors restrict a child’s physical activity time and make them more at risk for health complications and weight gain (Kolt, 2013). When children are sedentary, they are losing out on essential movement experiences that are crucial for their motor skill development environment (Shenouda, Gabel & Timmons, 2011).

Accessibility of Physical Activity

Children can be physically active in a variety of settings by doing many different activities. Physical activity is easily attainable, only requiring movement of the body and energy expenditure. Children have amazing imaginations and if they are put into any setting and encouraged to be active, they can perform physical activity (WHO, 2013a)! Cooper state that a major source of moderate-intensity physical activity that offers health benefits for children is active transportation. They concluded that children who bicycle to school gained significantly higher levels of cardio-respiratory fitness as compared to those who were driven to school (2008). Other effective modalities of moderate-intensity physical activity include playing child-games, playground play and doing household chores. Vigorous-intensity physical activity can be done through sports such as soccer, track and field and basketball, swimming and playing high speed children’s games such as tag (CSEP, 2014).

Notable Statistics

•Only 5% of children meet the current Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for daily moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (ParticipACTION, 2013)

•97% of children’s physical activity is done at a moderate intensity. Only 3% at vigourous-intensity

•Children average about 9 hours of sedentary time per day. This equates to 64% of their time awake (Statistics Canada, 2013a)

•Childhood obesity in Canada has tripled over the past thirty years

•Physical inactivity costs Canadian taxpayers $6.8 billion annually, about 3.7 percent of the country’s health care costs (ParticipACTION, 2013)

Practical Applications- Tips and Recommendations to Increase Physical Activity in Children

The Health Canada Guidelines are not impossible for children to achieve. In order for children to consistently perform 60 minutes daily physical activity, some recommendations can be made to encourage and facilitate children’s physical activity.

General Recommendations

• Daily physical activity routines must be established early in a child’s life, either through school or community programs. This will increase the tendency for the child to remain physically active throughout their life and it will promote good health (Harsha, 1995).

• Teachers, parents, caregivers, government officials and healthcare professionals need to be informed of the barriers preventing children from performing routine physical activity. If these barriers are made known, strategies and policies can be put in place to counteract them (Copeland et al., 2009; LeBoeuf , 2014; Lipman et al., 2011).

• Healthcare providers can provide counseling to educate parents about the importance of physical activity for their children. Thompson et al. discuss that smartphone applications that facilitate routine physical activity would be beneficial in today’s technological society (2012).

• For physical activity to be enjoyable, it must be age appropriate, varied, fun and must include different activities than those required for daily life (Landry & Driscoll, 2012).

• Parents and teachers must encourage children to actively transport to-and from destinations. A study by Kolt found that children who transport actively and independently gain more physical activity than those who do not (2013).

• Parents should encourage children to join different sports teams at school.

• Parents should encourage their children to move more.

• Parents should encourage physical activities after school and limit sedentary time.

• Families should do physical activities together and get fit as a family.

• Parents should encourage physical chores at home (raking leaves, shovelling snow).

• Teachers should promote physical activities in the classroom and encourage children to be active at recess (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2012).

Summary of Recommendations

If these basic recommendations and suggestions are followed, children will not only enjoy physical activity more, but they will reap the benefits of improved health, higher quality of life (Active Healthy Kids Canada, 2013). Children engaging in regular physical activity will experience improved motor ability (Wrotniak, Epstein, Dorn, Jones & Kondilis, 2006), resulting in increased participation in physical activity (Williams et al., 2012), which leads to further health benefits (Warburton et al., 2006).


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Copeland, K. A., Sherman, S. N., Kendeigh, C. A., Saelens, B. E., & Kalkwarf, H. J. (2009). Flip flops, dress clothes, and no coat: Clothing barrier to children’s physical activity in child-care centers identifies from a qualitative study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 6(1), 74. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-6-74

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