Physical activity is important for children and young people. Exercise can protect against conditions including obesity and anxiety, and can improve posture, sleep, concentration and self-esteem.
Kids love to be active. Making physical activity a part of their daily routine is not only fun, but also healthy. Encouraging kids to be active when they are young establishes a routine that could stay with them throughout their life.
The benefits of physical activity
Some of the benefits of physical activity and exercise for children include:
- Improve cardiovascular fitness (heart and lungs)
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Improve posture
- Better sleep
- Boost self-esteem and confidence
- Improve concentration
- Help relaxation
- Build strong bones and muscles
- Improve balance and develop skills
- Maintain and develop flexibility
- Opportunities to make friends and enhance social skills.
Australia's Physical Activity Recommendations for 5–12 Year Olds state that kids need to do a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity every day. But remember, more is better – even up to several hours! This can be built up throughout the day with a combination of moderate to vigorous activities.
Set a good example
Children learn by example. Research shows that the involvement of parents in physical activity can increase a child’s participation.
Set a good example for your child in the following ways:
- Regularly participate in physical activity yourself.
- Allow your child to choose the type of activity they are interested in.
- Promote acceptance of different body shapes and ability levels.
- Reinforce the social benefits as well as the physical.
- Help your child develop skills and strategies for coping with different physical activity environments.
- Involve your child in physical activities around the home such as gardening, washing the car or house cleaning.
- Walk short distances instead of taking the car. Encourage and support walking and cycling to school.
- Take your child for regular walks around the neighbourhood. Babies and young children can be pushed along in prams – once they get older, encourage them to walk part of the way.
- Restrict television watching, surfing the net and playing computer games to less than two hours per day. Limit viewing to programs that family members specifically want to watch. When the program is finished, turn the television off.
Good habits are best started early. A young child is naturally active, so build on their inclinations to use their body.
- Whenever possible, indulge your child’s interest in physical activity – for example, kick the ball with them when they ask.
- Show your child how to perform basic sporting skills, such as ball throwing, skipping and jumping. Research suggests that children whose basic skills are poor tend to avoid sports.
- Take them to the local playground and help them to use the equipment. Have a go yourself – slides and swings are fun, and you are likely to play for longer with your child if you are enjoying yourself too.
- Try out different sports in age-appropriate classes. Many activities have been adapted for toddlers, including gymnastics, football and dance.
- Make sure that some family outings are physically active. For example, you could go on bushwalks together.
Alternatives to structured exercise
Any physical activity, not just structured exercise classes, is beneficial to health and wellbeing.
Some fun activities for the family that don’t feel like exercise include:
- Fly a kite in the park or at the beach
- Dance to favourite music
- Ride bicycles along the river or use bike paths
- Play a family game of table tennis
- Swim and splash about at the local pool
- Walk the dog
- Throw a frisbee
- Rollerskate, rollerblade or skateboard (insist that everyone wears appropriate safety equipment)
- Jump on a trampoline.
Staying physically active in the colder months
Being active on sunny days is easy, but most of us tend to stay indoors over winter. Suggestions for staying active in colder months include:
- Rug up and explore the outdoors on cold, wet days. Give your child the opportunity to see what places look like when not bathed in sunshine. For example, the beach in winter is definitely worth seeing.
- Splashing through puddles is fun. Put on gumboots and raincoats, and go puddle-jumping with your child.
- Many activities can be performed indoors such as swimming, trampolining, table tennis and cricket. Explore different options in your neighbourhood.
- Some sports, such as Australian Rules football, are traditionally played during the winter months.
Where to get help
- Local council
- Local sporting associations
Things to remember
- Set a good example for your children by being physically active yourself.
- Incorporate fun physical activities into family outings, such as frisbee throwing, bushwalking or flying a kite.
- Expose your child to as many different types of sports and physical activities as you can.
You might also be interested in:
- Obesity in children - causes.
- Obesity in children - management.
- Physical activity - it's important.
- Walking tips.
Want to know more?
Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
(Logo links to further information)
Physical Activity Australia (formerly Kinect Australia)
Fact sheet currently being reviewed.
Last reviewed: December 2011
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your qualified health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residence and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a qualified health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.
For the latest updates and more information, visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
Copyight © 1999/2013 State of Victoria. Reproduced from the Better Health Channel (www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au) at no cost with permission of the Victorian Minister for Health. Unauthorised reproduction and other uses comprised in the copyright are prohibited without permission.