How Outdoor Play Helps Meet NHS Activity Guidelines

NHS activity guidelines

According to the NHS, children of nursery and pre-school age, between one and five years old, should have three hours of physical activity every day, combining both light and more energetic activity. Here, we discuss the NHS advice in more detail and look at how you can help children meet NHS guidelines in your playground.

NHS activity guidelines

The NHS Physical Activity Guidelines for Children Under 5 Years states that all children under five should be physically active for 180 minutes a day, with this spread over the day and including time spent playing outdoors. For those under three, this should be a combination of light and more energetic activity, while for threes and over, the recommendation is that at least one of the three hours should involve ‘moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity.’

Light activity is described as walking around, rolling, skipping, hopping, running, jumping, tummy time, messy play, playing with blocks, sand and water and catch-throw games. More active play includes riding a bike or trike, scooting, using a climbing frame, chasing games, ball games and hide and seek.

While these activities generally improve and maintain the health and fitness of all children, it is particularly beneficial for the increasing number of those who are overweight and are at risk of becoming obese as they get older.

Why exercise in preschool settings is so important

Three hours a day, every day, is a lot of time to be active and while children are inclined to get up and move if the chance arises, at home, those opportunities are not always there. Many homes aren’t conducive to energetic physical activity and most parents lead very busy lifestyles, often having to combine parenting young children with work and household chores. Though the vast majority go out of their way to play with their children, providing 180 minutes of physical activity every day can be incredibly difficult for them to achieve.

Except when sleeping, the NHS says children under-fives should not be inactive for long periods. Sitting and watching TV, travelling by car or being pushed in a buggy rather than walking isn’t, according to the guidelines, ‘good for a child's health and development.’

Unlike many homes, nurseries and EYFS settings often have the space, the time and the resources to provide children with the activities that they need.

Outdoor play equipment that helps

There is a lot of outdoor play equipment that can help nurseries and EYFS settings provide children with the opportunities to participate in the activities recommended in the NHS guidelines. Here are some which we think offer the greatest benefits not just for physical activities, but because they also help children develop the key EYFS skills and are great fun.


Age-appropriate climbing equipment comes in a variety of guises today and there are plenty of options for nurseries and EYFS settings. Themed play towers and play castles inspire children to get up and moving, providing the fun of climbing, the thrill of sliding and plenty of opportunity to role play and chase each other about. Physical activity comes from climbing ropes, steps and inclined pathways, crawling through tunnels, sliding down poles and slides and more.

Hopping, skipping & jumping

Quick and easy to install and cost-effective too, playground markings provide everything children need to play a wide variety of hopping, skipping and jumping games. What’s more, not only do they motivate children to get moving, sometimes incredibly energetically, they also provide learning opportunities, both with regard to physical skills, like balance, agility and coordination, and with basic literacy and numeracy skills; helping them to learn letters, numbers, phonics, directions, weather types and more.

Roadway markings

For fast-paced physical activity, take a look at our Roadway playground marking. Not only does it provide a track for trikes and bikes; it also contains many features of a public road, making it more fun to play on and helping children develop a greater sense of road safety. With two directional road markings, roundabouts, parking bays, fuel station and zebra crossings, it’s a mini replica of a real roadway where more intense exercise can take place safely.

Messy play

Children love messy play and it encourages light activity that involves many different muscle groups as they move around, dig, lift and carry. Today, aside from traditional mud kitchens and sand pits, there are bark pits, sand trays and water play pools, magnetic water walls and more to consider.


It is obvious from the NHS guidelines that young children need a lot of physical activity to keep themselves healthy. With many young children not getting enough opportunities at home, nurseries and EYFS settings can make up for the shortfall while the children are in their care. What’s more, with the right outdoor play equipment, not only can the children stay active; they can learn and have lots of fun at the same time.

For more information, visit our Early Years page.

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