Physical activity in children and teenagers

What is meant by physical activity?

Physical activity includes organised physical activity, such as playing sport or participating in physical education classes at school. It also includes incidental activity, which is part of everyday living, such as walking to and from school or playing with the dog in the backyard.

Moderate activity is about equal in intensity to a brisk walk, whereas vigorous activity is where the intensity of the activity is enough to make a child ‘puff’.

Why is it important to be physically active?

There are many reasons why it is important for children and adolescents to be physically active. Some of these include:

  • improving cardiovascular fitness;
  • helping to build strong bones;
  • maintaining a healthy weight;
  • aiding development of physical skills such as coordination and balance;
  • helping to relax and improving sleep;
  • building self-esteem; and
  • developing social skills.

How much and what type of activity is recommended?

The recommendation for school-aged children and adolescents in Australia is a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This can be built up over the course of the day and can be made up of a variety of moderate to vigorous activities.

Where children have been inactive, it is recommended to start with moderate activity, of say 30 minutes per day, and build it up gradually.

What about computer games, the internet and TV?

It is recommended that children and adolescents do not spend more than 2 hours per day watching TV, DVDs or videos; using the internet; or playing computer games.

What can I do as a parent?

Some of the ways that you can help your child include:

  • being a good role model by being active yourself;
  • helping your child develop physical skills, for example by playing ball with them in the backyard;
  • encouraging physical activity as part of daily life;
  • helping to make physical activity fun, such as encouraging your child to find a sport they enjoy;
  • being active on family outings, such as playing frisbee at a family picnic; and
  • limiting time spent watching TV, using the internet or playing computer games.
Last Reviewed: 21 March 2010
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References

1. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Physical activity guidelines. Physical activity [Website]. Update March 2009. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines#guidelines_adults (accessed April 2010).
2. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Physical activity guidelines. Australia's physical activity recommendations for 12-18 year olds (brochure). 2005. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/phd-physical-activity-kids-pdf-cnt.htm (accessed April 2010).
3. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Physical activity guidelines. Australia's physical activity recommendations for 5-12 year olds (brochure). 2005. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/phd-physical-activity-youth-pdf-cnt.htm (accessed April 2010).
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