exercise kids

How much exercise do kids need to be healthy?

We know physical activity is important for everyone – kids included! But do you know how much activity is appropriate for you child? What kinds of activities your child should be involved in? How you can encourage a child who doesn’t like sports or gym class to still be active? Let’s answer these questions (and more)…

Why exercise is important for kids

There are so many health benefits when children are physically active!. Exercise positively influences children’s development, in particular motor skills, cognitive development and social skills. It can also have a positive impact on mental health and self-confidence and assists with focus and attention in school.

Physically, exercise can help to maintain a healthy weight or assist with weight loss. It also improves muscle and bone health. Children who exercise are more likely to become life-long exercisers, which provides long-term benefits and reduced risk of chronic disease development.

The barriers to exercise in today’s society

The scary truth is that 74% of children aged 5–12 and 92% of young people aged 13–17 aren’t sufficiently active. So, what’s stopping them from reaching the recommended levels of physical activity? Here are some factors:

  • Increased technology use is causing increased sedentary time
  • Parents don’t have time to keep their kids engaged in sports
  • Kids are often bused or driven to school, reducing the amount incidental exercise they get
  • Not enough time spent being physically active during school hours

children exercise

Risks of not children not engaging in physical activity

Inactive kids don’t develop physical literacy. That is, an understanding of how to move your body, why and when you should, your motivations to move and the social skill to be active with other people. This can lead to a reduced desire as a child, teen and adult, to participate in physical activities because of a lack of confidence in different kinds of movements2.

1 in 4 children aged 2-17 were overweight or obese in 2014 and 2015. The risk of your child becoming overweight or obese increases with less activity and more sedentary time. The rates of type 2 diabetes in children are also increasing, which the World Health Organisation attributes to excess body weight and physical inactivity.

How much exercise should kids be doing?

Australian guidelines suggest children ages 5-12 years old get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day. This includes both aerobic activity and exercises to strengthen muscle and bone. It is also recommended they include flexibility exercises into their daily physical activities.

This activity doesn’t have to be accumulate all in one go – 60 mins can be spread throughout the day. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the more activity kids undertake, the better (up to three hours per day)!

Kids should also limit the amount of time they spend sitting and make sure they accumulate no more than 2 hours of screen time per day.

What types of exercise should kids be doing?

Aerobic exercise

This is the kind of exercise that gets the heart pumping and lungs working hard! Both the heart and lungs adapt and get more efficient and stronger as your child continues to engage in aerobic activity.

Moderate activity is when your child is puffing a little bit, but can still speak whole sentences without needing to catch their breath. Vigorous activity is when your child is working hard and would be unable to speak a whole sentence without need to take a breath.

Team sports where running is involved are a great way of incorporating aerobic activity – netball, footy, field hockey, basketball, soccer…the list goes on! If your child doesn’t like participating in team sports there are tons of options – swimming, athletics, cross country running, biking, dancing, tennis, skate boarding etc.

Even playing tag or running on the playground can count as aerobic activity – not all exercise needs to be structured!

child exercise

Strengthening exercise

Strengthening activities should be done at least 3 days per week. By strengthening muscles, your child will become stronger overall. This can help with success in sports and will help prevent injuries. Increased muscle can also help with a healthy body composition (lean body mass to fat mass ratio).

Strength training with weights or bodyweight is one way to increase muscle. If your child is interested in lifting weights, you can find an exercise professional who can help them train in a safe and effective way!

If your child isn’t interested in strength training, that’s OK! There are many activities that can help build strength such as gymnastics, surfing, dance, rowing, sprinting, biking, yoga, Pilates, rock climbing and many more!

Again, not all activity needs to be structured – playing on the playground, or games such as hopscotch or tug of war, are effective as well.

Flexibility training

Flexibility is important too! It can help with sports performance and reduce risk of injury. Activities such as dance, gymnastics, martial arts, Pilates, yoga among many others are great options to help your child stay flexible!

7 Tips for getting kids more active

1. Keep it FUN! If your child enjoys the activity they will be more likely to stay involved in it.

2. Indigenous children may like to engage in traditional Indigenous games – this is a fantastic way to not only stay active but reconnect the kids with their culture and history.

3. Try physical activities together or include kids in the activities you do already!

4. Keep trying new things – the variety is good for kids mentally and physically.

5. Get kids involved in chores at home – gardening, sweeping up leaves, cleaning in the house are great ways to stay active.

6. If paying for expensive sports is an issue, consider free or low cost activities like bush walks, frisbee, tag, kicking a soccer or footy ball around with your kids etc.

7. Use technology to your advantage – Wii sports is a great option!

If your child isn’t currently doing at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, it’s time to start! It’s OK to start slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity. If you need some advice, consider booking in to see an accredited Exercise Scientist or Exercise Physiologist! To find one near you, click here.

Julianna Dreger Accredited Exercise Physiologist

Julianna is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and research assistant who is passionate about women’s health.