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How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?

by Aiza

We all know that it is important for our children to be active. But how much physical play do children need exactly?

This is a question many parents find themselves asking, and not knowing the answer can cause them quite a bit of stress.

After all, it’s right up there with eating healthily and getting lots of sleep, when it comes to maintaining their overall health and well-being.

So, in this article, we will attempt to answer that for you once and for all. But first, let’s go over why it is so important for children to partake in regular physical activity.

Benefits of being active

Regular physical activity is essential for everyone’s health and overall wellbeing, but this is particularly true for children. Not just in the present too, but also in terms of their future development.

Several studies have proven that children who are physically active can enjoy several health benefits. These include strengthening their immune system, as well as their bones, heart, muscles, and lungs.

It has also been shown to keep them at a healthy weight level and improve their posture, flexibility, balance, and coordination.

Perhaps most crucially, regular physical activity and exercise significantly reduces their risk of contracting cancer, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes as they get older.

In addition to these benefits, active children are more likely to concentrate better at school, have greater self-confidence, and have stronger feelings of belonging. They tend to make friends more easily too and get along with others, as well as be more open to sharing, taking turns, and cooperating.

Typically, they are more relaxed individuals as well and they even sleep better at night. So, a trip to your local playground is most definitely worth it – especially when there is a cafe for the adults to hang out in as well.

So how long do kids need to be physically active for?

The length of time your child needs to be physically active every day depends on their age. But current Australian guidelines recommend the following:

Under 1 year old – No generally agreed time amount, just lots. Babies who aren’t mobile should have at least 30 minutes per day of tummy time.

Children aged 1 to 3 – Should engage in physical activity, including some aspects of energetic play, for a minimum of three hours every day.

Children aged 3 to 5 – Should also partake in at least three hours of physical activity every day, including a minimum of one hour of energetic play. If you are unable to provide them with this, then early education and preschool institutions such as ones like Gowrie NSW in Mudgee will be able to do so.

Children aged 5 years to 18 years – Should perform at least one hour every day of between moderate and vigorous physical activity. In addition, they should do several hours of light physical activity as well. On top of this, at least three times a week, they should also do activities that strengthen their bones and muscles.

In case you are wondering, it is also recommended that anyone over the age of 18 should do between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate physical activity a week, or between 1.25 and 2.5 hours of vigorous physical activity.

At least two days a week, they are advised to focus on activities that strengthen their muscles.

What do you mean by physical activity?

Physical activity is essentially any activity that involves moving your body and lifting your heart rate. 

This can include anything from everyday activities and exercise to physically active play and organised competitive sports.

With regards to the recommendations outlined above, children do not have to do the full one to three hours of physical activity in one go. They can do it over several short sessions throughout the course of the day.

To determine the difference between light, moderate and vigorous physical activity, a loose definition can be as follows.

Light activity is essentially anything that gets your kids up and moving. Moderate physical activity gets children huffing and puffing and vigorous activity results in them sweating and/or gasping for breath.

What kind of physical activity should children do?

Now that you know how long your children should spend every day being physically active, you might be wondering what activities they should be doing. Well, as you would imagine, this depends on the level of activity they are partaking in.

Light physical activity could involve them walking the dog or to school, building sandcastles on the beach, standing up and painting at an easel, playing an instrument or having fun with their building blocks.

By contrast, moderate physical activity might see them going for a quicker walk on the beach, riding a bike, swimming, dancing, flying kites, playing in a park’s playground or flying kites.

The most vigorous physical activity they do can take the form of riding a bike or scooter fast, playing a sport like football, rugby, netball or basketball, swimming, dancing or running around the playground during a game of tag, 

In terms of activities that specifically strengthen bones and muscles, and make them work a lot more than normal, children should partake in climbing, lifting, jumping, throwing, twirling and running.

You could also suggest they do push ups, sit-ups, lift weights, yoga and swing on monkey bars too. Babies should be encouraged to kick and rock their feet. 

Less time sitting 

As well as doing physical activity, it is important to limit the amount of time your child engages in sedentary behaviour. In other words, just sitting or lying down.

They do of course need their relaxation time, but prolonged periods of being idle can significantly reduce the benefits they gain from being active.

So, try to make sure they don’t spend too long doing this and keep their screen time to no more than 2 hours a day. (This length of time does not include screen time required for schoolwork). 

More time sleeping

Just as critical for their health and well-being as doing regular physical activity, is ensuring your child is getting good sleep.

For toddlers, you might consider a sleep routine. However, for children aged 5 to 13 years, the optimum amount of uninterrupted sleep they need is between 9 to 11 hours. Young people between the ages of 14 to 17 years old require between 8 to 10 hours.

To help them develop and keep solid and healthy sleep patterns, try to ensure they have a regular bedtime and wake up time. Also, keep screens out of their bedroom and restrict them from using screens an hour before they go to sleep.

Final Thought

Throughout the course of any given day, children and young people should enjoy the right balance between physical activity, relaxation, and sleep.

As their parents, we hope this guide has provided you with all the information you require to help your child achieve, and benefit from this balance.

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