teenagers exercise

Why teenagers are dropping the ball when it comes to exercise

Did you know 80% of teenagers around the world aren’t getting enough exercise? So, why aren’t they meeting the physical activity recommendations and what can we do about it?

Teenagers are growing increasingly inactive world wide. Worse still is the fact that Australia, a nation that prides itself on its outdoor culture, is doing particularly poorly. We’re currently ranked 140 out of 146 countries for teenage exercise levels. Something needs to change.

There’s also a trend that girls are less active than boys. The data shows that 85% of girls are physically inactive compared to 78% of boys. This was consistent in all but four countries around that world. In Australia, less than 1 in 10 adolescents aged 12 to 18 are meeting the recommended levels of physical activity.

How much exercise do teens need?

The current guidelines and evidence state that teenagers should be accumulating at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. This should include muscle and bone strengthening activities on at least three days per week, whilst limiting recreational screen time to a maximum of 2 hours per day.

The risks of inactivity in adolescence

Not being sufficiently active can cause a range of health conditions leading into early adulthood and beyond. Adolescents may have decreased bone and cardiometabolic health which leaves them at an increased risk of chronic disease in later life, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and decreased fitness. If you’re not moving enough you’re also at an increased risk of being overweight or obese, with statistics already showing that 29.8% of teenagers (14 – 17) are classified as overweight or obese.

There are also worrying signs that mental illness is becoming more prominent in teenagers. Adolescents is an important time of a person’s life and is usually where the first signs of depression start to show. Unfortunately, as children age the amount of time spent outdoors doing something active decreases and amount of time spent sitting increases. This then leads to an increased risk of depression. The good news is that just 60 minutes of light physical activity can help protect these children against depression.

Why are teens not moving enough?

Children are generally more physically active in primary school.  Lunchtime in primary school is dedicated to physical activity, there is a range of space to play, and playgrounds for climbing, whilst PE class is mandatory for all. Once young people reach high school there is a decreased focus on outdoor physical activity, less time at lunch/ break, and more sitting areas with less open spaces.

Physical Education classes usually become more selective and there is an increased demand on sedentary, study, and other external commitments. Unfortunately, just because your teenager participates in a sport does not necessarily mean they are meeting the guidelines.  This is because training is usually only 1 to 2 days per week with 1 day dedicated to game play where your child may or may not play the whole time.

Read more: Teen mental health and why movement matters

teenagers exercise

How can we get teens to be healthier and more active?

It’s the big question. How can we get teenagers to exercise more? In 2018 the World Health Organisation made a declaration to reduce insufficient physical activity by 15% through the “More Active People for a healthier world” campaign.

So, where do we start? Firstly, high schools should place more importance on lunch time and allow 1 hour breaks that priorities exercise facilities. We should also encourage teenagers to be active on their lunch break and break down the stigma.

Parents and guardians also have an important role to play and should aim to dedicate 1 hour a day to moving more. This does not need to be 1 full hour and can be broken down into 2 x 30-minute blocks. The most important factor is to identify your teenager’s interests, level and needs surrounding their physical activity. Do they already play a sport and train twice a week? What is something you can do on the other days of the week that is similar or different?

If your child is not interested in sports, what do they like and how can you incorporate that into them being more active?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance in finding a safe and fun exercise program. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist or Exercise Scientist can help your child find a way to be more active that is suited to their needs, age of development and interests.

To find an accredited expert near you, click here!


  1. Plan into your day times that will be spent being active
  2. Aim for 60 minutes per day, every day
  3. Make it fun, enjoyable and ensure it is at your child’s level
  4. Shorter burst of higher intensity physical activity may be easier to reach the guidelines


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Written by Nicole Emery. Nicole is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.