Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Safe exercise for children

5-minute read

To ensure your child remains safe while they're exercising and having fun, there are some simple things to keep in mind.

You don’t usually need to worry about your child exercising too much – most children in Australia need to do more, not less exercise. An exception is if you are concerned they are overexercising to lose weight they do not need to lose, especially as they approach their teenage years.

How much exercise is right for young children?

Being physically active is good for children’s physical development, learning at school, and emotional health.

Children aged 5 to 12 years need to do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day. This should include a variety of aerobic activities as well as activities that strengthen muscle and bone.

It is important to encourage your child to get moving and to limit the time they spend sitting down. Children shouldn’t spend more than 2 hours in front of a screen per day.

How much exercise is right for adolescents?

Young people aged 13 to 17 should do a variety of moderate to vigorous physical activity for 60 minutes each day. The more they do, the better – as much as 3 hours per day is fine.

'Moderate' physical activity means still being able to talk while doing it, as in swimming, social tennis, walking fast, riding a bike or dancing. 'Vigorous' physical activity will make you puff, as in jogging, aerobics, circuit training, cycling fast or organised sport.

Part of this physical activity should include exercise that strengthens bones and muscles, including sit-ups, push-ups, lunges and squats.

Adolescents don’t have to do the 60 minutes all in one go. Walking to the shops or train station, a school sports lesson and going for a walk with friends will all accumulate over the day.

It’s also very important for adolescents to spend less time sitting or lying down.

They should try to break up long periods of studying with moving around, or meeting friends in person rather than online, and should limit the time they spend in front of a screen for entertainment (including television, seated electronic games, portable electronic devices and computers) to no more than 2 hours per day.

Can children exercise too much?

Like adults, children have different levels of skill and fitness. The amount of exercise that is right for your child will depend on their age and interests.

To prevent injury:

  • mix up the type of exercise (aerobic, muscle strengthening and weight bearing) and try different sports
  • watch for signs of burnout, especially when training for organised sport (if your child is exhausted, injured, or cannot fully recover after exercise then they may be doing too much)
  • don't let your child do organised sport for more than 1 hour per year of age every week (ie an 8-year-old should only train for 8 hours a week)
  • make sure they have one day resting from organised sport per week (they can still play and be active in other ways)
  • make sure your child only does activities they are skilled and strong enough for
  • ensure they use proper safety gear, such as mouth guards, shin guards or a helmet
  • get the right treatment if they suffer an injury.

Warming up before exercise

Warming up before exercise prevents injury by softening the muscles and making them more supple. Before exercise, encourage your child to warm up by:

  • going for a slow jog, swim or cycle, or a quick walk
  • stretching all the muscles they’re going to use (hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds, but never until it hurts)
  • practising specific skills they are going to use, like hitting, kicking, throwing or catching.

Cooling down after exercise

Cooling down after high-intensity exercise is important for relaxing and softening muscles. Also, during high-intensity exercise, waste products collect around the muscle tissue until they can be carried away by the lymphatic system. Cooling down after exercise helps the lymphatic system to do this.

After exercise, encourage your child to cool down by:

  • gradually reducing the intensity (slow from a run to a slow walk – don’t just stop)
  • stretching like they did in the warm-up, but holding the stretches for longer
  • putting on warm clothes so they cool down slowly.

Avoid sunburn and dehydration

When exercising in hot weather, your child should wear sunscreen and a hat. Make sure they drink water before, during and after playing sport.

If your child starts acting strangely or has a bad headache, it could be due to dehydration. Have them sit in a cool place and give them some water. If they don’t feel better in 10 minutes, take the child immediately to a hospital emergency department or call triple zero (000).

More information

Visit the Sports Medicine Australia website to explore a range of sport-specific fact sheets. These discuss ways to prevent injuries, advice for taking care of junior players and how to deal with common injuries.

Last reviewed: December 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Physical activity and exercise for children

Here is trusted advice about how much daily exercise your child needs for good health and fitness and how you can encourage your child to be more active.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Physical activity in children and teenagers - myDr.com.au

Get the low down on why physical activity is so important for children and teenagers.

Read more on myDr website

Obesity - How to get kids to be more active | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Australian children are less active than ever before

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Spina Bifida - Be active kids with Spina Bifida | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Physical activity Physical activity is very important for all children, and especially for children living with Spina Bifida

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Physical activity for children: how much | Raising Children Network

How much physical activity do children need each day? For children aged 1-5 years, its three hours. For those aged 5-18, its at least an hour. Read more.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Physical activity for school-age children | Raising Children Network

Trying different sports helps school-age children work out what theyre good at. Doing physical activity they enjoy and are good at keeps them interested.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Spinal Cord Injury - Be active Kids with Spinal Cord Injury | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Physical activity Physical activity is very important for all children, and especially for children living with Spinal Cord Injury

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Physical activity: getting kids involved | Raising Children Network

Getting children involved in lots of fun physical activity keeps them healthy and active. Our practical tips make physical activity part of family life.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Healthy Kids : Children's Active Travel

Active Travel in New South Wales Resources for Parents and the School Community

Read more on Healthy Kids website

Healthy Kids : Being Active

Facts about physical activity for children aged 5 to 12 years

Read more on Healthy Kids website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo