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kids playing catch

How to Get the Kids Active? Invite a Friend to Play!

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Agata Kowalewska, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

When my kids have friends over to play, I have a general rule that they aren’t supposed to watch TV, play video games, or otherwise get involved in screen time. This isn’t usually an issue. Instead, the kids usually go outside and enjoy our swing set or the other outdoor toys and games we have on hand. I love to hear the sound of happy kids being active in the fresh air.

Now a new study from the UK confirms what I already knew was true at my own house: when children have friends over to play, they generally get more active, outdoor exercise. Considering that few children (either here or in the UK) meet government targets of an hour of moderate to vigorous daily exercise, this is worth looking into further.

Activity Tracked with Devices

In the study, researchers attached specialized devices (accelerometers and GPS locators) to about four hundred 10- and 11-year-old boys and girls. The instruments measured their physical activity and pinpointed their geographic location. This way, the research team was able to tell how much exercise the kids were doing and whether they were outside or inside. The kids wore the devices after school for a few days. They also kept track of whom they were with during this part of the day.

Playmates Made the Difference

The results revealed that on the whole, kids were inactive and indoors for most of their after-school time. However, if a friend was on hand to play, kids engaged in more physical activity. This was noticeable even when the children stayed inside, but when they went outdoors together, exercise levels really shot up. For every hour the children spent outside with friends, they spent 17 additional minutes on “moderate to vigorous” physical activity. Interestingly, girls also were pretty active when they played outside with siblings, but the same didn’t hold true for boys.

With this in mind, the authors of this study believe we need to help children spend more time together outdoors when not in school. Strengthening local communities so that parents feel safer allowing their children to play more freely outside in their neighborhoods is one way to make this happen. The researchers also encourage adults to find more ways to help kids be active inside, as may be necessary when the weather doesn’t cooperate. After-school care programs have an important role to play here as well.

For parents who want to get kids up and moving, though, it’s probably helpful to know that just inviting another kid over to play may be one easy way to get kids exercising more. Your children are likely to embrace this new “fitness plan”!

(Photo credit: Served way up high! by Wonderlane. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)

Further Reading

Your local Extension office may have active events or program your child can participate in—look for an Events tab or link on the site of the office nearest you.


Pearce MI, Page AS, Griffin TP, Cooper AR. Who children spend time with after school: Associations with objectively recorded indoor and outdoor physical activity. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2014 Mar 30;11(1):45. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-11-45.