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Physical activity and exercise for children

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Physical activity is important for your child’s growth, development and health.
  • Encourage your child to spend more time moving and less time sitting.
  • Toddlers and preschool-aged children should be active for at least 3 hours a day, while school-aged children and teenagers should be active for at least one hour a day.
  • It’s important to limit screen time, because this is time when your child isn’t moving.
  • Being active as a family will encourage your child to be more active.

What are the benefits of physical activity for my children?

Physical activity is essential for your child’s healthy growth and development. It's good for their body and their mind.

Infants and children need daily physical activity because it:

  • builds strong muscles, joints and bones
  • improves their coordination, balance and flexibility
  • helps them reach and keep a healthy weight
  • increases their confidence, happiness and social skills
  • helps them learn better at school

Physical activity also leads to a healthy heart. It can help prevent overweight and obesity and lower your child’s risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers later in life.

What type of exercise should my child do?

Your child can get enough exercise with everyday unstructured activities such as:

  • walking
  • running or jumping
  • riding a bike
  • climbing trees
  • or using playground equipment.

Encourage them to move more and sit less.

Babies can play on the floor and have tummy time. Young children enjoy playing, running around, going to the park and exploring.

When your child reaches school age, they may do more structured exercise and sports, such

as football, netball, swimming, dancing or yoga. They can also be active by walking to school or doing chores at home.

What if my child doesn’t like sport?

Many children find sport fun. They learn new physical skills, enjoy playing in a team, and learn the thrill of winning and how to bounce back from defeat.

However, not all children enjoy or have the physical skills needed for particular sports. Support your kids by encouraging them to practise and overcome difficulties. It’s okay if your children don’t like sport. Help them find an activity they enjoy — anything from judo to skateboarding. Your child might like to walk your dog, or a neighbour’s dog, or enjoy raking up leaves in the garden. There are lots of ways to get your kids to be active that don’t involve sport.

How much activity do my kids need?

This depends on how old your child is. The Australian guidelines recommend:

  • From birth to one year, babies should have some physical activity, especially supervised floor play in a safe environment. At least 30 minutes of tummy time, spread through the day, is recommended for babies who are not yet mobile. While awake, infants should not be strapped in or kept inactive for more than an hour.
  • Toddlers and children aged 1 to 5 years should be physically active for at least 3 hours a day. Kids under 2 shouldn't have screen time where they're just sitting still. For 2-year-olds, no more than 1 hour of sedentary screen time is advised. Sedentary activities should include reading, singing, puzzles and storytelling with a caregiver.
  • Children aged 5 to 17 years should do at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. They should participate in activities that strengthen their muscles and bones at least 3 days a week. Breaking up long periods of sitting is important. Discuss limits on screen time with children and young adults.

Find out more about the physical activity guidelines for:

How much screen time is okay?

When your child is watching a screen, they’re missing out on time they could be active.

It’s recommended that children under 2 should not watch television or use electronic devices at all.

For older children, limit the time spent watching television and playing on computers, tablets or other electronic devices to:

  • one hour a day for children aged 2 to 5 years
  • two hours a day for children aged 5 to 17 years

What can I do to get my kids to be more active?

  • Be physically active yourself. You are your child’s most important role model.
  • Encourage children to explore and play outdoors, alone or with friends. If you don’t have a backyard, find a public outdoor space you all enjoy, like a park or beach.
  • Get kids to help with household tasks, such as hanging up washing or weeding the garden.
  • Walk or ride a bike to school and on errands, rather than driving.
  • Exercise with your children and plan activities where you can be active as a family.
  • Supply equipment such as skipping ropes and balls, or improvise with things such as an obstacle course of cardboard boxes.

Resources and support

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2023


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Need more information?

Children’s physical activity: obstacles | Raising Children Network

Obstacles to children’s physical activity include sitting still, space, schedules and screens. Try walking, adjusting schedules and using screens differently.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Physical activity for school children | Raising Children Network

Trying different sports helps school-age children work out what they’re good at. Doing physical activity they enjoy and are good at keeps them interested.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Physical activity for children: how much | Raising Children Network

How much physical activity do children need for health and wellbeing? Children aged 1-5 years need 3 hours a day. For kids aged 5-18, it’s at least 1 hour.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Physical activity in children and teenagers - MyDr.com.au

Encouraging kids and teens to be more active is not always easy. Try to find physical activity that your kids enjoy.

Read more on myDr website

Physical activity: getting kids involved | Raising Children Network

Getting children involved in fun physical activity keeps them healthy and well. It starts with free time to be active and different activities to try.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Spinal Cord Injury - Be active Kids with Spinal Cord Injury | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Physical activity Physical activity is very important for all children, and especially for children living with Spinal Cord Injury

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Child Energy Requirements Calculator - MyDr.com.au

Find out the estimated energy requirement (EER) for infants, children and adolescents at different physical activity levels.

Read more on myDr website

Preschoolers nutrition & fitness | Raising Children Network

Want to know about keeping preschoolers active and eating healthy food? Check out our extensive resources on physical activity and healthy eating for kids.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Physical activity

Being active is important for all Australians and getting started is easy. Read our helpful hints for different age groups and find the best activity for you.

Read more on WA Health website

Physical activity - overcoming excuses - Better Health Channel

There are many excuses we can come up with to avoid being active, but the truth is there is always a way to fit some physical activity into your day.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

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