1. Toddlers
  2. Nutrition & fitness
  3. Physical activity

Physical activity for children: how much and why?

1-8 years

By encouraging your child to do some physical activity every day, you’re helping your child to be healthy now and setting up healthy habits for life. Daily physical activity can also be a lot of fun!

About physical activity for children

Physical activity is great fun, an important part of play and learning, and essential for healthy growth and development.

It’s also natural for children to move and be physically active.

Babies rock their bodies and kick their feet, and toddlers love to move around, dance, climb and jump. Many older children enjoy organised sports and playground games, and many children like a bit of rough-and-tumble play.

Australian guidelines on children’s physical activity

Australian guidelines recommend that children aged:

  • 0-1 years should have some physical activity, like floor play, each day
  • 1-5 years should be physically active for at least three hours each day, with activity spread across the day
  • 5-18 years should do at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.

‘Moderate physical activity’ includes activities that get your child gently huffing and puffing. They’re about as intense as a quick walk.

‘Vigorous physical activity’ includes activities that get your child huffing and puffing a lot, and sweating. This could be running games or riding a bike fast.

Physical activity doesn’t have to be done all at once, or even in big blocks. Your child can do it in small blocks of time throughout the day.

Why physical activity is good for children

Physical activity is good for your child’s health – now and in the future.

Benefits of physical activity include:

  • strong bones and muscles
  • healthy heart, lungs and arteries
  • improved coordination, balance, posture and flexibility
  • reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese 
  • reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and type-2 diabetes later in life.

Physical activity is also great for helping your child to be happy and well in other areas of life.

For example, active children are more likely to:

  • be confident and feel like they belong
  • be happy and relaxed
  • sleep well
  • concentrate better at school
  • get along with others and make friends easily
  • share, take turns and cooperate.

Types of physical activity

Physical activity isn’t necessarily ‘exercise’.

Your child doesn’t have to play an organised sport or do push-ups to benefit. Opportunities for free outdoor play are just as important and valuable. It does help, though, if you make daily plans for when and where your child can be active.

Simple physical activities can include:

  • going for walks or walking to child care or school
  • spending time in places like playgrounds
  • playing in parklands, shallow water at the beach or a river, near your home or at the homes of friends or family
  • playing ‘chasey’, ‘keepings off’, one-on-one soccer, basketball, touch rugby or netball in the backyard or park.
Getting your child moving is all about fun for the whole family. If you all enjoy physical activity together, it’s more likely to stay part of the family routine.

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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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