Designed for health

Increased activity by adapting play environments

Falling levels of physical activity amongst children is a global problem with far reaching and costly consequences for health and well-being across the lifespan. Researchers at LJMU have demonstrated how modifying children’s play spaces can significantly increase activity levels over a sustained period, with the potential for generating important short and long-term health benefits.

Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity (MVPA) plays an important role in determining health outcomes. Research from LJMU has shown that increasing MVPA by just 5 minutes per day reduces the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.

The ‘Sporting Playgrounds’ project undertaken by LJMU’s Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences (RISES) explored how modifying playground environments can positively influence levels of physical activity in schoolchildren. Examples include painting playground surfaces with multi-coloured markings, designating areas for specific types of activity (such as ball games, un-structured play and socialising) and installing physical structures (such as goal posts) all with the aim of increasing activity.

Research conducted by RISES staff demonstrated that such modifications to play spaces significantly increased physical activity over a prolonged period, with the positive effects of playground re-design still evident after 12 months.

Moreover, health economics analysis of the RISES data concluded that the cost of increasing vigorous physical activity by 5 minutes per day was £5.40 per child per year. According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) this modest amount represents an extremely cost-effective intervention to enhance the health of children.

The methodologies used by RISES staff have provided practitioners with confidence to support the call for widespread modifications to playground environments and research outcomes have influenced policy and approaches to playground planning around the world.

For example, the research has been promoted in reviews by Play England and the National Children’s Bureau concerned with increasing children’s levels of physical activity. The American Journal of Paediatrics cites ‘Sporting Playgrounds’ research in its policy recommendations outlining the importance of playground design for child development. The Government of Western Australia cited the research in a call to action to change legislation to use playground design to motivate children to engage in physical activity.

Find out more about the research taking place within the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences.

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