by Steph Inglis

AS A former professional athlete, I think the most important role for any athlete is to encourage people of all ages to become more physically fit, as the domino effect can positively influence other areas of our lives, including our mental health.

The BBC news reported that children aged between five and 16 spend, on average, six-and-a-half hours a day in front of a screen. That is a scary statistic, and we can nearly give some justification that COVID meant schooling was at home on screen, so of course it was increased. But what’s even scarier is that data was collected in 2015, so I dread to think what that number is now.

This is where we all come in to help break the trend and create new habits for our younger generations and ourselves.

Last time I spoke about getting out in the outdoors and walking. Why not make this a nightly activity after dinner with the whole family? There are numerous benefits from taking a walk after dinner, not only for our physical and mental wellbeing, but also for building relationships with our families and catching up on each other’s day. It also helps break down our food to help our digestive system do its job!

Here are some ideas to help get children moving if you are struggling to pull them away from their screen. For example, they are watching their favourite TV show or film again – why not add in an active game? If Frozen is their favourite film they like to watch over and over, why not allocate a character to the family, and every time their character’s name is said, they have to do 10 star jumps or press-ups, or whatever exercise they come up with and agree on?

Another method I find which motivates the whole household to get active, is to create an activity tracker. Create a bar chart with everyone’s name at the bottom, and then going up in 15-minute increments. Everyone tracks over the week how many active minutes they have, and the winner gets a reward agreed by everyone. When someone has completed physical activity, they shade in the equivalent minutes on the chart, and everyone can keep track through the week and who is at the top of the leaderboard!

Another great way to help get children active and achieve their one hour of physical activity a day can be joining a sports club.

Reaching out to your school and their active schools co-ordinator ( will help) will see them able to advise you on clubs that are running within the school, either during lunchtime or after school, and they also have good connections with community clubs.

For example, if your child is interested in basketball but the school does not have a basketball club, active schools would help point you in the direction of a local club.

A lot of the active school clubs are led by teachers, parents and club coaches and are mostly free, so finding out more information on this would be beneficial. As a former active schools’ co-ordinator, I have experience setting up a variety of clubs in schools, including football, netball, running, dodgeball and more, and my advice to every pupil is to go and try something.

You don’t have to have any previous experience of a sport or even know the rules; we join something to try and learn. What is the worst thing that could happen? You might join a club and go for a couple of weeks and not enjoy it. That’s OK; we don’t like everything, but instead you can maybe go and try another club.

Best case scenario, you find a club that you really enjoy, you make new friends and who knows where that could lead – school competitions and festivals, joining a local club, reaching national level, international level, a career in sport?

A really simple way of increasing children’s activity levels, and your own, is by active travel. Do you live within walking distance of the school? Could you walk with your child to school in the morning and collect them and walk home, maybe via a park to let them play and run around? Can you let your child cycle or scoot to school?

This can be tricky as parents tend to drop children at school on the way to work but is there any opportunity throughout the week to introduce a walk to or from school – maybe buddying up with fellow parents and taking it in turns to walk with children?

Being active and having children involved in sport is not only beneficial for their physical health. It helps develop important gross motor skills like learning to skip, hop, jump, run and even sit up properly in class and being able to pay attention during a lesson. It is also great for building confidence and communication skills.

Social skills are broadened and deepen through sport and shared experiences. With 16-18 per cent of children aged two to 15 at risk of obesity (Obesity Action Scotland), engaging children in more physical activity will help maintain a healthy weight also.