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Benefits of physical activity for children

4-minute read

Children love to play and be active. To benefit their health, children over 5 should be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. It doesn’t have to be a structured sport – anything that gets them up and moving will do.

Living an active lifestyle

About 4 out of 5 children in Australia don’t get the daily 1 hour of physical activity they need for good health. Encouraging your child to be physically active every day will set them up to be active and healthy for their whole lives.

The challenge is to encourage children to sit less and to move more.

Sit less

Australian children are spending more time than ever before sitting or lying down (known as sedentary behaviour), 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. But it’s important to strike a balance and to find more opportunities for them to move.

The Australian Government recommends that children aged 5 to 12 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.

Move more

Children should do 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. That includes fast walking, riding a bike or scooter, playing, running and doing organised sports.

There should be a mix of activities that make them puff and activities that are good for their bones, like climbing on monkey bars, gymnastics, dance, running, skipping and jumping.

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

Health benefits of exercise

Exercise can be anything that makes children’s breathing faster and their heart beat quicker. Sitting less and exercising for an hour a day (not necessarily all in one go) 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 much physical activity do children need?

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 'tummy time', when you place your child in a safe place, such as a play mat on the floor)

1 to 5 years: at least 3 hours of being physically active, spread throughout the day

5 to 12 years: at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

This should include a variety of aerobic activities as well as activities that strengthen muscle and bone.

Children should also limit the amount of time they spend sitting, and those aged over 5 should spend no more than 2 hours a day in front of a screen. This recommended maximum screen time drops to 1 hour for children aged 2 to 5, with no screen time at all recommended for children under 2.

Tips for encouraging physical activity

  • choose activities your child likes and that are fun
  • make sure there's lots of variety and your child tries different things
  • build physical activity into your child's day – for example, 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
  • be active yourself and involve the whole family.

More information

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.

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Last reviewed: December 2017

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