1. Pre-teens
  2. Health & wellbeing
  3. Healthy lifestyle

Physical activity for older children and teenagers

9-18 years

Young people have lots of demands on their time, so they can find it hard to be active. But physical activity keeps teenage bodies and minds fit and healthy – and during adolescence, your child needs at least 60 minutes of activity every day.

Why physical activity is important for pre-teen and teenage children

Being active every day is an important part of your child’s routine. It’s good for your child because it:

Physical activity is also great for:

  • breaking up long periods of sitting and studying
  • improving concentration and memory
  • learning new skills
  • increasing self-confidence
  • reducing stress and improving sleep
  • making and keeping friendships.

Physical activity: how much and what kind?

Australian guidelines recommend children aged 5-18 years have at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. And at least three days a week, this should include activities that strengthen muscles and bones.

Moderate activities make your child ‘huff and puff’ a little 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 him ‘huff and puff’ even more. Vigorous activities can happen in any game with lots of running. They’re often a big part of sports like soccer, cycling, hockey, football and some forms of dance.

Activities that strengthen muscles and bones make your child’s muscles work harder than normal and put extra force on bones. These activities include jumping, running, climbing and lifting, as well as push-ups, lunges and squats. Moderate and vigorous physical activities often help to build muscles and bones. 

Your child can get ‘huffing and puffing’ in lots of different ways – anything from organised sport to cycling or walking to school will do!

Planning ahead for physical activity

For many young people, physical activity doesn’t just happen – it needs to be planned.

When you and your child think about how to get enough physical activity into her daily schedule, the following questions might help:

  • Where can your child be active? How much space do you have at home, in the backyard, 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?
  • Are there any young people’s groups that could be useful?
  • What activities can your family plan so you can all be active together?

Your child doesn’t have to get his daily one hour of physical activity in one hit. He can build it up over the day through a range of different activities. This makes it easier to get enough and to do even more than one hour.

School sport isn’t always enough 
You might think your child will get all the physical activity she needs in physical education (PE) classes or from running around at lunchtime. Unfortunately, this might not happen.

In PE classes, students spend only about one-third of their time being moderately to vigorously active. The rest of the time is spent learning about sports, skills, safety, movement and the human body. And in their lunch breaks, students can often be busy socialising, eating and doing other slow-paced things.

Children who don’t like physical activity

Not all young people are keen on sport and physical activity. If this sounds like your child, he could explore a range of other non-competitive physical activities to find one he likes.

For example, you and your child could look into activities and groups like community youth clubs, Scouts and Girl Guides. These groups often do lots 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.

And if a bad past experience has put your child off physical activity, you can help her practise skills and build confidence. For example, you could have a game of tennis with her at a local court. When there are no other children around, your child might be more likely to have a go. And the bonus is you get to spend some time having fun together.

When you’re active yourself, you give your child a great role model for physical activity. Sometimes, if you or other members of your family can get your child to be active, he’ll get a chance to see how good it can feel.

Balancing physical activity with screen time

If children spend a lot of time sitting or lying in front of screens, it can be hard for them to do enough physical activity.

For children aged six years and older and teenagers, the most recent screen time guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics say that there should be consistent limits on the time they spend on electronic media and the types of media they use. It’s also important to make sure that screen time doesn’t take the place of activities like physical play.

Setting limits on screen time
If you want to set some limits on your child’s screen time, you can start by thinking about how much screen time your child has every day. If it’s more than you’d like, you could agree on a daily schedule for physical activity and electronic media use.

Another good way to cut down on screen time is to have all your screens – TV, computer, mobile phones – in your home’s family areas, rather than the bedrooms.

And when you’re setting limits, these limits should apply to everyone in your home – including you.

Screen time is an OK way to spend a small part of each day, but other things are better for your child’s overall health and development. These things include physical activity, homework, reading and time with family and friends.

Balancing physical activity with homework

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 she’s actually doing.

If you think the impact of homework is too big, you might like to talk to teachers to work out a compromise.

Physical activity and young people with additional needs

Physical activity is just as important for children with additional needs, even if they have extra challenges. Many organised activities have been modified or are supported to help these children have a go. And some playgrounds have been designed and built with special equipment and sensory activities. This encourages children of all abilities to play.

Check with support groups, sporting organisations or your local council to see what’s available in your area.

Your family could also try making time to do physically active things together to fit in with your child’s needs.

Outdoor physical activity is especially important for young people with additional needs. Being outdoors is a good way for young people to get the vitamin D they need for strong bones and muscles. It also helps build movement skills.


Healthy lifestyle and fitness for teenagers


In this short video, parents and teenagers talk about the importance of a fit and healthy lifestyle. As one dad says, ‘When my daughter does exert herself, she feels happier and healthier’. The video includes lots of everyday ideas about the ways these families fit physical activity and fitness into their busy lives. Many of them choose activities they can all do together.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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