Play is important for children regardless of physical activity level, say researchers who advise against restructuring play to encourage physical activity.©Olesya Feketa/shutterstock.com

Play is important for children regardless of physical activity level, say researchers who advise against restructuring play to encourage physical activity.©Olesya Feketa/shutterstock.com

(Relaxnews) – In a panic over increasingly sedentary children, experts and parents alike have attempted to structure playtime to make it active in the hopes of increasing fitness, but a new study says that might not be necessary and points to the importance of free play.

“By focusing on the physical activity aspect of play, authorities put aside several aspects of play that are beneficial to young people’s emotional and social health,” says Professor Katherine Frohlich of the university’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine.

Play, say the researchers, is beneficial to the emotions, provides relief from worries and problems and encourages healthy socializing.

In the study, 25 children from Montreal between the ages of 7 and 11 were asked to photograph and describe what they do during their playtime.

Sports, say the researchers, were well-represented, but so were many sedentary activities such as arts and crafts, and spending time with pets.

Talking to the children about their playtime helped researchers understand what play meant to them and they concluded that play as an end in itself is important to children and that the challenges children create for themselves make for a healthy degree of risk that enriches their lives.

They also found the children felt ambivalence towards their scheduled activities and didn’t have enough time for unstructured play.

“Play reframed as a way for improving physical health removes the spontaneity, fun and freedom in children’s play, which is also important for their well-being,” says first author Dr. Stephanie Alexander, also of the university’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine. “Active play alone does not make up many children’s preferences.”

The study was published in the journal Qualitative Health Research.

In a study published in June in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder interviewed 70 parents of six-year-olds and found that kids who spend time reading, playing or exploring nature in the absence of predetermined structure are more proactive and better able to meet their goals than those whose parents pack their schedules with lessons and study sessions.