Introduction

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 screen-based entertainment is among the most popular forms of leisure. This is a cause for concern, due to increasing evidence of a relationship between lack of physical activity and lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Most children find it fun to play and be active, and it is important to encourage physical activity in the early childhood years for two reasons. Firstly, early development of good habits may form a foundation for later years. Secondly, regular physical activity in early childhood can impact on immediate and long-term health outcomes.

Early childhood settings are the ideal place to develop good physical activity habits and influence the behaviours of families. Parents, staff and carers can work together to share the responsibility of making physical activity a priority both inside and outside the home.

For children under five years, active play is the best form of physical activity. Active play involves unstructured ‘free’ play and structured ‘planned’ play (both indoors and particularly outdoors), ‘active transport’ (such as walking to a destination, rather than driving or using a stroller) and certain everyday tasks.

The benefits of active play go beyond just the physical, and include the development of social, language and intellectual skills.