Why physical activity is important for pre-teens and teenagers
Being physically active every day is good for your pre-teen or teenage child’s health. It:
- improves heart and lung health
- boosts your child’s immune system
- develops strong muscles, strong bones and good posture
- helps your child maintain a healthy weight and avoid overweight or obesity
- reduces your child’s risk of developing high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes.
Physical activity can also boost your child’s mental health and wellbeing. That’s because it can:
- break up long periods of sitting and studying
- improve concentration and memory
- help with learning new skills
- increase self-confidence
- reduce stress and the risk of developing anxiety and depression
- improve sleep
- improve social skills and help with making and keeping friendships.
Physical activity is important for all children and teenagers, including those with disability. Children and teenagers with disability can do many physical activities. And many sports can be modified so that children and teenagers 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 as well as organised sports and exercise.
Light physical activities don’t noticeably change your child’s breathing or heart rate. These include activities like leisurely walking, standing to do artwork, playing a musical instrument or cooking.
Moderate activities make your child huff and puff a bit. These could include brisk walking, dancing, bike riding, swimming laps and jogging. Even helping out with some of the more active chores inside and outside your home can be good.
Vigorous activities increase your child’s heart rate and make them huff and puff a lot. Vigorous activities can happen in any game with a lot of running. They’re often a big part of sports like soccer, cycling, hockey and football, and some forms of dance.
Activities that strengthen muscles and bones make your child’s muscles work harder than usual and put extra force on bones. These activities include jumping, running, climbing and lifting, as well as push-ups, lunges and squats. Many moderate and vigorous physical activities help to build muscles and bones.
How much physical activity do pre-teens and teenagers need?
Australian guidelines say that children aged from 5 years up to 18 years need one hour or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity and several hours of light physical activity each day. At least 3 days a week, this should include vigorous activities and activities that strengthen muscles and bones.
Young people aged 18 years and over should do 2½-5 hours of moderate physical activity or 1¼-2½ hours of vigorous physical activity each week. Or they can do a combination of moderate and vigorous physical activity that adds up to enough activity overall. And at least 2 days a week, this should include activities that strengthen muscles.
Your child can build up their physical activity across the day through a range of different activities. Some activities can be planned exercise, like going for a run, but some can be everyday activities like walking or riding to school. Doing different activities across the day makes it easier to do enough physical activity overall.
Planning for physical activity
For many busy pre-teens and teenagers, physical activity needs to be planned.
When you and your child think about how to get enough physical activity into your child’s daily schedule, the following questions might help:
- Where can your child be active? How much space do you have at home, in the backyard, or at the local park, walking track or local pool?
- What local options are low cost or free to use?
- Who are your child’s ‘active’ friends? Who can you visit to help your child be active?
- Who else can help your child be active when you don’t have time to help?
- What activities can your family plan so you can all be active together?
Planning can make it easier to get a healthy balance of physical activity, homework, casual work, social activities and so on. You might like to help your child make a weekly plan of their activities.
When pre-teens and teenagers don’t like organised physical activity
Not all pre-teens and teenagers are keen on doing organised or competitive physical activity like sports. If this sounds like your child, they could explore a range of non-competitive physical activities to find one they like.
For example, your child might prefer physical activities they can do at their own pace. This might include activities like skipping, swimming, going to the gym or doing online workouts.
Or you and your child could look into community activities or groups like community youth clubs, Scouts or Girl Guides. These groups often do a lot of physical activities. When young people get involved in groups like these, they might also feel a sense of achievement, which makes it more likely that they’ll have another go.
If a bad past experience has put your child off physical activity, you can help them practise skills and build confidence. For example, you could have a game of tennis with your child at a local court. When there are no other people around, your child might be more likely to have a go. The bonus is you get to spend some time having fun together.
When you’re active yourself, you can be a great role model for your child. Sometimes, if you or other members of your family can get your child to be active, they’ll get a chance to see how good it can feel.
Balancing homework and physical activity
You might be worried that homework is limiting your child’s physical activity.
If so, try talking to teachers about how much homework your child is supposed to be doing, then look at how much they’re actually doing. If you think the impact of homework is too big, you could talk to teachers to work out a compromise.
Another idea is for your child to stand while doing their homework. For example, you might be able to set up a standing desk for your child.
You can also encourage your child to break up long periods of sitting with short bursts of physical activity. For example, your child could kick a soccer ball against a wall or do yoga stretches for 5 minutes between homework tasks.
Balancing screen time and physical activity
Sometimes screen time and digital technology use can mean pre-teens and teenagers sit still for too long without a break.
But you can use screen time to get your child moving. For example, you can try things like:
- encouraging your child to make a nature documentary based on a bushwalk
- videoing your child learning new sports skills, and replaying the footage so your child can watch their progress
- suggesting that your child chooses video dance games or virtual sports simulators.
Healthy screen time for pre-teens and healthy screen time for teenagers is all about balance. It’s good for your child’s development to do plenty of different activities, which include physical activity, homework and study, extracurricular activities, socialising and sleep as well as screen time.