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Benefits of physical activity for children

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Children of all ages can benefit from being physically active.
  • Physical activity is essential for good physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Physical activity does not need to be a structured sport. Anything that gets them up and moving will benefit your child.
  • Children spend time sitting at school, doing homework and reading and it's important to strike a balance and to find more opportunities for them to move.
  • Try to encourage a mix of activities to strengthen their muscles and bones and to increase their breathing and heart rate.

What is an active lifestyle?

Children love to play and be active. To benefit their health, children over 5 years of age should be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. It doesn't need to be a structured sport, anything that gets them up and moving will help.

Fewer than 1 out of 4 children aged 5 to 14 years get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

Encouraging your child to be physically active every day will help them stay active and healthy through adolescence and adulthood.

Try to encourage your child to sit less and move more.

Encouraging your child to sit less

Australian children are spending more time than ever sitting or lying down, often because they're using electronic media. Even if your child is active and does a lot of sport, they will still benefit from sitting less.

All children spend time sitting at school, doing homework and reading, this is known as sedentary behaviour. It's important to find a healthy balance by encouraging activities that allow for more opportunities for them to move.

The Australian Government recommends that children aged 5 to 12 years should spend no more than 2 hours a day in front of a screen for entertainment, including television, seated electronic games, portable electronic devices or computers.

Children aged 2 to 5 years should spend no more than 1 hour a day in front of a screen, while children under 2 years of age shouldn't have any screen time at all.

Encouraging your child to move more

According to 'Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines', children need the following:

Birth to 1 year: moving on the floor from birth (including at least 30 minutes per day of 'tummy time' while awake, when you place your child in a safe place, such as a play mat on the floor.

1 to 5 years: least 3 hours of being physically active, spread throughout the day including running, jumping, dancing and/or skipping.

5 to 12 years: at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day to increase the heart rate. That includes fast walking, riding a bike or scooter, playing, running and participating in organised sports. There should be a mix of activities that make them puff, and activities that strengthen their muscles and bones. These can include climbing on monkey bars, gymnastics, swimming, yoga and climbing.

60 minutes of physical activity doesn't have to be done all in one session. You can build it up so your child accumulates the physical activity over the day.

What are the health benefits of exercise?

Exercise can be anything that makes children's breathing faster and their heart beat quicker. Sitting less and exercising for 60 minutes a day (not necessarily at once) has many health benefits for children:

  • They will develop healthy bones, muscles and joints.
  • They will develop healthy heart and lungs.
  • Their coordination, strength and muscle control will improve.
  • They will maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Their body will become more flexible.
  • Their balance and posture will improve.
  • Their brain will develop vital connections, leading to improved concentration and thinking skills.
  • They are less likely to develop chronic diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

How can I encourage my child to be physically active?

  • Choose activities your child likes and that are fun.
  • Make sure your child tries a variety of activities.
  • Build physical activity into your child's day by walking to school, washing the car or helping in the garden.
  • Reward your child with an activity like a visit to the park rather than with screen time.
  • Praise and encourage your child when they are being active.
  • Be active yourself and involve the whole family.

Resources and support

For more information and tips on encouraging an active lifestyle, you can download the 'Make your move' brochure from the Australian Government Department of Health.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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