Physical activity: why it’s good for children
Physical activity is vital for children’s health, wellbeing and development, now and in the future.
Physical activity has many health benefits for children. It:
- strengthens children’s bones, muscles, hearts and lungs
- improves children’s coordination, balance, posture and flexibility
- helps children maintain a healthy weight
- boosts children’s immune systems
- reduces the risk of children developing high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, anxiety and depression.
Physical activity also boosts children’s wellbeing. For example, active children are more likely to:
- be confident, have healthy self-esteem 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.
Physical activity is an important part of play and learning too.
And when children do physical activity with you or other people, it can be a great way for them to build relationships in your family and community. It can also help them develop language, social and communication skills.
Physical activity is also just good fun for children.
Children with disability can do many physical activities and sports. Many sports can be modified so that children with disability can fully participate and be included.
What is physical activity?
Physical activity is any activity that involves moving your body. It includes everyday activities, physically active play, and organised sports and exercise.
Light physical activities don’t noticeably change your child’s breathing or heart rate. These include activities like going for a stroll, playing a musical instrument or standing up to paint at an easel.
Moderate physical activities make your child huff and puff a bit. These could include:
- walking quickly
- throwing and catching balls
- training with weights
- dancing, hopping, skipping or jumping in puddles
- flying kites
Vigorous physical activities increase your child’s heart rate and make them huff and puff a lot. It could be:
- playing running games like ‘keepings off’ or ‘chasey’
- jumping on a trampoline
- cycling, including hand cycling
- playing organised sports like soccer, basketball, touch football, squad swimming or netball.
Activities that strengthen muscles and bones make muscles work more than usual and put extra force on bones – for example, jumping, running, climbing and lifting. Many moderate and vigorous physical activities help to build muscles and bones.
Energetic play is a natural way for children to move and be active. For example, babies rock and kick their feet. Older children run, jump, twirl, kick, throw, dance to music, play on playground equipment, enjoy rough-and-tumble play, and much more.
How much physical activity do children need each day?
Australian guidelines say that children aged under one year should have plenty of floor play. For babies who aren’t up and about, 30 minutes of tummy time each day is good.
Children aged 1 year up to 3 years should have at least 3 hours of energetic play each day.
Children aged 3 years up to 5 years should be physically active for at least 3 hours each day. This includes one hour of energetic play.
Children aged 5 years up to 18 years should do at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity plus several hours of light physical activity each day. And at least 3 days a week, this should include vigorous activities and activities that strengthen muscles and bones.
Young people aged over 18 years should do 2½-5 hours of moderate physical activity or 1¼-2½ hours of vigorous physical activity per week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous physical activity that adds up to enough activity overall. And at least 2 days a week, they should do activities that strengthen muscles.
Physical activity can be done in blocks of time throughout the day. The key thing is that your child does enough physical activity overall. And the more physical activity your child does and the less time your child spends sitting, the better it is for your child.