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Physical Activity

Boys playing basketball

What is physical activity?

Physical activity is any sort of movement by the skeletal muscles (such as our arms and legs) that helps us burn up the energy we get from the food we eat. There are many different types of physical activity: walking, running, swimming and cycling, to name just a few.

Physical activity can be a part of:

  • family activities
  • games
  • sports
  • playing with friends
  • getting to places by walking or cycling.

Why is physical activity good for kids?

Physical activity plays an important role in helping children and young people to be fit and healthy – in the short and the long term – in all sorts of ways, such as:

  • a healthy weight
  • strong bones and muscles
  • balance and flexibility
  • posture
  • cardiovascular fitness
  • blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity (risk factors for coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes in adults).
  • relaxation
  • self-esteem
  • social skills and social networks.

What are the current physical activity guidelines for kids and teens?

Kids and teens should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day and will obtain even more benefits from doing up to three hours a day of physical activity.

Physical activity should include a variety of activities including activities which make them 'huff and puff'.

Strengthening physical activities should be included at least three days of the week, as they help to build muscle and strong bones.

National Physical activity guidelines are available across various age groups.  Click on the links below to view the relevant guideline:

All current guidelines are supported by a rigorous evidence review process.  Evidence review reports can be accessed from The Department of Health website.

Are children doing enough physical activity?

It is recommended that children and young people aged between 5 and 18 years do a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. There are also specific recommendations for infants and younger children.

Moderate physical activity includes brisk walking, bike riding, skateboarding and dancing.

Vigorous activities include playing football and netball which are activities that make you ‘huff and puff’.

Recent surveys show that many children are not meeting the recommendations for physical activity.

  • The 2018 Active Healthy Kids Australia Report Card rated Australian kids D- for Overall Physical Activity Levels. This marks the third Full AHKA Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Young People, which assesses 12 physical activity indicators (physical activity behaviours, traits, and the settings and sources of influence, and strategies and investments, which have the potential to impact these behaviours and traits). As in 2014 and 2016, Australia has again been assigned a failing grade (D−) for Overall Physical Activity Levels.
  • The 2009-2010 NSW Population Health Survey found that only about a quarter of children and young people aged between five and 15 years had at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Almost 35% of children aged 5-8 years met the 60 minutes a day recommendations, dropping to just under 20% of 9-15 year olds.
  • The 2010 NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey found that boys in years 6, 8 and 10 were more active than girls and that physical activity declines with age.

What are Fundamental Movement Skills and why are they important?

Fundamental Movement Skills are the building blocks for movement.  They are the skills which children need to participate successfully in all types of games, physical activities and sports.  Examples of these skills can be frequently seen in popular games played by children.

Research shows that children who are competent in fundamental movement skills are more likely to enjoy sports and activities and to develop a lifelong commitment. Research also suggests that children who do not master FMS are more likely to drop out of physical activity later in life. An important part of the K-6 PDHPE programs in schools and Munch and Move program in NSW child care services is to help young children develop these important skills.

What about sedentary behaviour?

A rise in the amount of sedentary or ‘still’ time – often spent watching TV, DVDs, surfing the internet and playing computer games – is linked to children and young people becoming overweight or obese, which they can carry through into adulthood.

It is recommended that children and young people aged between five and 18 years should not spend more than two hours per day on small screen entertainment.

However, the 2009-2010 NSW Population Health Survey reported that nearly half of children and young people aged between five and 15 years spend more than two hours on small screen entertainment each day.