Physical activity for children: how much and why?
By encouraging your child to do some physical activity every day, you’re helping your child to be healthy now. You’re also setting up healthy habits for your child’s future. Our guide explains how much physical activity children of different ages need.
About physical activity for children
Physical activity is great fun, an important part of play and learning, and essential for healthy growth and development.
It’s also natural for children to move and be physically active. Babies rock their bodies and kick their feet, and toddlers love to move around, dance, climb and jump. Many older children enjoy organised sports and playground games, and many children like a bit of rough-and-tumble play.
Australian guidelines on children’s physical activity
Australian guidelines say that children aged 0-1 years should have some physical activity several times each day. This includes floor play and crawling, and at least 30 minutes of tummy time for babies who aren’t up and moving yet.
Children aged 1-5 years should be physically active for at least three hours each day, with activity spread across the day. This includes energetic play like running, jumping or twirling. If your child is over three years, energetic play should add up to at least one hour a day.
Children aged 5-18 years should do at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. And at least three days a week, this should include activities that strengthen muscles and bones.
Moderate physical activity gets your child gently huffing and puffing. Moderate activities are about as intense as a quick walk.
Vigorous physical activity gets your child huffing and puffing a lot, and sweating. This could be running games or riding a bike fast.
Activities that strengthen muscles and bones make muscles work more than normal and put extra force on bones – for example, jumping, running, climbing and lifting. Moderate and vigorous physical activities often help to build muscles and bones.
Physical activity doesn’t have to be done all at once, or even in big blocks. Your child can do it in small blocks of time throughout the day.
Why physical activity is good for children
Physical activity is good for your child’s health, now and in the future.
Benefits of physical activity include:
- strong bones and muscles
- healthy heart, lungs and arteries
- improved coordination, balance, posture and flexibility
- reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese
- reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and type-2 diabetes later in life.
Physical activity is also great for helping your child to be happy and well in other areas of life. For example, active children are more likely to:
- be confident and feel like they belong
- be relaxed and sleep well
- concentrate better at school
- get along with others and make friends easily
- share, take turns and cooperate.
Types of physical activity
Physical activity isn’t necessarily ‘exercise’.
Your child doesn’t have to play an organised sport or do push-ups to benefit from moving. Opportunities for free outdoor physical activity are just as valuable. It does help, though, if you make daily plans for when and where your child can be active.
Simple physical activities can include:
- going for walks and walking or riding to child care, school or a friend’s house
- spending time in places like playgrounds
- playing near your home or at the homes of friends or family, or in parklands or shallow water at the beach or a river
- playing ‘chasey’, ‘keepings off’, one-on-one soccer, basketball, touch football, or netball in the backyard or park
- dancing and skipping around your home
- jumping in puddles, flying kites and other winter activities when it’s cold or wet outside.