It’s so important for kids to be active. Not only does it help fight against childhood obesity, it helps children to cope with mental stresses too.

Staying active and physically healthy is crucial for everyone, particularly children. Fortunately, most kids have a natural urge to play, so it’s important to encourage them to do different sports and exercise to make use of all that energy.

Obesity is a growing concern, and so is high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Ensuring kids are active from a young age can help them grow into healthy teenagers and adults. But unfortunately, many children struggle with their mental health too.

Some may feel anxious about certain situations, or they may be coming to terms with the loss of a loved-one, or a change in their living situation. Engaging them in a sport or physical activity can help build confidence and give them a focus. To coincide with Children's Mental Health Week (1 - 7 February 2021), we’ve put together a list of the best sports for kids, with tips for how to make them more active.

How can I get my kids to be more active?

It’s estimated that 1-in-3 children in England do fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a day, which is half the recommended guideline. Girls are less likely to be active than boys, and 13 to 16-year-olds are the least active age group. Children should get 30 minutes of exercise during the school day, and 30 minutes outside school. But if your child prefers a smartphone to a football, how can you encourage them to be more active?

There are lots of ways to get kids active, and one of the ways is to get kids into sport. Sports participation promotes health and wellness not only through childhood, but throughout a child’s lifetime. It can also make children more aware of healthy food choices, which is essential for overall health and wellness. Here are some tips to encourage children to exercise every day and stay active:

  • Lead by example: Your little ones are always watching and copying what you do, good and bad. So if your kids see you being physically active, they’re more likely to be active throughout their lives.
  • Get the whole family involved: Sport and exercise is something you can do together as a family. Games for the whole family, whether that be working together or through some healthy competition, allows you to spend quality time together. Why not play a game of football or cricket down the local park, or go swimming or climbing together? Try and choose activities for all ages so the little ones can get involved too.
  • Make it fun: The best way to make kids more active is to make exercise fun! They’re more likely to keep exercising if they're doing an activity they enjoy. Use simple props like hula hoops, bean bags, cones and skipping ropes to create a fun obstacle course. Or find some child-friendly workout videos online and invite their friends round to enjoy them together.
  • Put the music on: Exercising to music creates fun and excitement. Kids are able to lose themselves in the music, and disconnect from anything that might be making them stressed or anxious. Exercising to music seems to make time go by much more quickly, so it’s an effective way to increase your child's activity.
  • Use exercise as transport: Walk your kids to school, or run or cycle to the park. If you can avoid using the car, bus or train, then do it! This could be an easy way to incorporate extra exercise into your child’s daily routine, and the fresh air’s good for them too!
  • Turn off the TV: Limit the amount of time your kids spend watching TV or playing computer games, and get them up and moving instead. Too much screen time can also make it harder for your child to sleep at night, as well as making them more prone to putting on weight.
  • Motivate them through competition: Make it a contest between you and the kids to see who can do more sit-ups, or who can run faster. Give the winner a prize, and try a new activity each day as part of a mini Olympic Games.
  • Include kids in the housework: Many household chores can be quite physical, like vacuuming, washing the car or mowing the lawn. Kids love to feel like they’re helping, and it’s a great opportunity to sneak in a little extra activity.
  • Give activity-related gifts: A bicycle, rollerblades, a football or a trampoline make great gifts that promote physical activity. Fitness watches and activity-tracking apps are also a fun choice for teens.

Kids under age 7 should enjoy natural, daily physical activity like running, skipping and jumping. Kids aged 7 to 17 should exercise at an intensity high enough to raise their heart rate for at least an hour a day, 5 days a week.

Why is physical activity so important for children?

It’s all too easy for kids to slip into a routine of going to school, coming home, eating, doing homework and then sitting down to watch TV. And with busy parents trying to juggle work and entertaining their little ones, it’s sometimes just easier to let them play games on their tablets or other gadgets.

Unfortunately kids are less active now than previous generations, so getting kids to exercise and take part in sporting activities can maximise their potential and help them live a healthier lifestyle. Sport can benefit children in so many ways, including:

  • Better Coordination & Balance: Kids who do sport and physical activity learn to have better control of their bodies, which positively affects coordination, motor skills (fine and gross) and balance.
  • Positive Changes in Body Composition: Exercise is essential for a healthy body composition. Kids who regularly participate in sports tend to be leaner than those who don’t, and they have less chance of developing diseases like metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Improved Lung & Heart Function: The more active kids are, the healthier their heart and lungs tend to be. This can also lead to better heart and lung function as young adults.
  • Increased Stamina & Strength: Participating in sport helps to strengthen muscles which leads to an overall increase in stamina and strength. As well as being able to perform physical exercise and everyday tasks, improving stamina and strength also contributes to a higher metabolism, reducing the risk of obesity.
  • Positive Body Image & Self-Esteem: As children approach their teenage years, they can sometimes develop a negative body image. This is especially common in girls. Participating in sports can lead to a healthier body image and improved self-esteem.
  • Reduced Stress & Positive Mood: Sport and physical exercise can help children blow off steam. It allows them to leave their stress and aggression on the playing field, which can help elevate mood and can decrease the chance of them developing depression in adulthood.
  • Increase focus: Participation in sport requires creative and strategic thinking, as well as increased focus and attention. These skills will help kids in the classroom, and also when they start to work as young adults.
  • Social benefits: Aside from all the physical benefits associated with doing sports, it also allows kids to make friends outside of school. It teaches them to cooperate, to be less selfish, and to listen to other children. It also gives them a real sense of belonging, particularly if they're part of a team.
  • Leadership Skills: Playing as part of a team can build strong leadership skills. They’ll learn to set a good example, and how to take other children’s opinions into account. These skills can help kids to excel in school, life and in the workplace as adults.
  • Sportsmanship: Participation in sport from an early age teaches children that you can’t always win in life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. They learn how to handle it graciously, and develop ways for coping with both situations. Afterall, it’s the taking part that counts!
  • Reduced Rates of Drug Use and Teen Pregnancy: Studies show that kids who participate in sports are less likely to use drugs and alcohol as they get older. And girls who participate in sports are less likely to become pregnant in their teenage years as sport gives them a focus.

Early participation in sport can create good habits in children, which contribute to a healthier lifestyle as they grow into adults. An active child is less likely to become obese as an adult, and it can also lead to improved lung and heart function. Sport forms an important role in a child's development, and it can help them to learn many skills which can translate to other areas of their life.

What are the best sports for kids to practice?

Sports and activities for kids are great fun, and they also contribute to improved physical and mental health.

Some children have a natural interest or ability for certain sports, but it’s a good idea to let them try out different activities to see what they really enjoy doing. And engaging in different sports and activities allows them to mix with different children, and work different parts of their body.

If you’re not sure which sports are best for your child, take a look at our list of the best sports for kids, with the lowdown on the benefits they bring too.

1. Football

One of the most popular sports in the world, it’s an accessible sport which doesn’t require much equipment. Most kids have a football, and a kickabout in the park or garden is a good way to get them running around. Toddlers can even start to learn the skill of kicking a football back and forth, and the sport brings a whole host of physical benefits.

Benefits of football for children: Football encourages discipline, teamwork and fairness. It also promotes muscle strength, flexibility, coordination, weight control and cardiovascular endurance. Dribbling with a ball improves dexterity and balance too.

2. Running

With practically no cost involved, running is the perfect way to get kids moving. It’s one of the best forms of exercise a child can get as it helps kids build endurance, which is developed when they regularly engage in aerobic activity. Running also offers them a sense of freedom and a sense of achievement when they finish a race.

Benefits of running for children: Running brings focus, concentration and endurance. Regular running also builds muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness, as well as developing lung power and building immunity, so kids are less likely to get common colds and flu.

3. Cycling

Kids love bikes, and the sense of freedom and independence cycling brings. Children can start to learn important skills as soon as they’re walking. Using a balance bike from a young age teaches them to balance while they’re sitting and in motion, which is the hardest part of learning to ride a bike.

Benefits of cycling for children: Cycling brings many physical benefits, including stronger legs, coordination, endurance and improved balance. It helps to control weight and strengthens cardiovascular functions. Children learn patience and discipline by learning to ride a bike, and it also builds confidence and teaches them road safety.

4. Gymnastics

One of the best all-round forms of exercise for children, gymnastics incorporates a number of different skills into a single sport. It helps to keep kids physically active and healthy, and for younger children, introductory classes should focus on developing body awareness and a love for the sport before enrolling in a serious gymnastics programme.

Benefits of gymnastics for children: Gymnastics is a key sport which develops strength, flexibility, speed, balance, coordination, power and discipline. All these skills are transferable to other sports and physical exercise. And above all, gymnastics is fun! It encourages children to be confident and gives them the possibility to learn something new in every session.

5. Swimming

Splashing around in the pool is lots of fun for all ages. You can start to introduce your little one to swimming from as young as 2 months old, and swim time promotes important muscle development and control in babies. Swimming also provides loads of other health benefits which can help to keep your children healthy while having fun at the same time.

Benefits of swimming for children: Swimming improves lung power by teaching breathing control when in the water. It also improves muscle strength by practising different strokes, and it can even save your child's life when in and around water.

6. Judo

A fun sport for children as young as 5 years old, judo is a martial art which teaches self-defence. And although competition is a huge part of the sport, there’s so much more to it than merely fighting. It makes children more physically healthy, and it builds confidence, self-esteem and respect for others.

Benefits of judo for children: Judo helps to instill a sense of discipline, self-control and focus. It promotes hard work as it takes lots of practice and dedication to learn throws and other techniques. It builds healthy and strong muscles early on, improves their cardio, and it sets the foundation for them to become healthy and active adults.

7. Tennis

One of the most popular sports in the UK, tennis is now more accessible than ever before. It’s a great sport that gets kids exercising outside, and it offers a range of life skills, health benefits and plenty of fun for children of all ages.

Benefits of tennis for children: Tennis requires quick thinking and fast reactions. Players need to be agile, and it encourages kids to strategise their moves. Tennis also helps develop arm strength and accuracy, and improves cardiovascular fitness.

8. Basketball

With just a ball and a hoop on your door or in the garden, basketball is a great way to get kids to be more physically active. It allows them to feel a sense of belonging by being part of a team, which can really build confidence in quieter children.

Benefits of basketball for children: Kids will learn to make quick passes which improves reflexes and thinking-time. Dribbling the ball encourages coordination, and running around improves muscle strength and develops agility.

9. Dance

Ideal for children who are generally not interested in sports, dancing could be a great way of letting them exert energy. Dancing can be a very sociable form of exercise, and the thrill of performing in front of other people is one of the best parts.

Benefits of dance for children: Dancing is a high-energy form of exercise that requires enthusiasm and positivity. It allows your child to make lots of new friends, and it builds confidence, as well as a natural sense of rhythm. It helps improve flexibility, agility and balance, and can control weight too.

10. Trampolining

We all know kids love jumping up and down, so what better fun than a trampoline? If you have the space, a trampoline could be a worthy investment, but you don’t need to have a huge garden to have one. You can also buy small trampolines which can be used inside, which can bring endless fun and a multitude of health benefits.

Benefits of trampolining for children: A fun piece of equipment that the whole family can enjoy, a trampoline is a great way to make kids more active. Trampolining (whether at home, school or in a club) stimulates the body to naturally release endorphins, which in turn helps kids to feel happier and more at ease. And just 10 minutes of jumping is about the same amount of exercise as 30 minutes of running. It also helps to improve muscle strength, motor skills and posture, and builds healthy bones and joints.

Regular physical activity is a must for everyone, and it's even more important for kids. Getting your child involved in sports is a great way to get fitness incorporated into their lives. And it can instill healthy habits for the future as active children are more likely to mature into active adults.