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Keeping kids active: a guide to children's exercise

Girl swimming at her local swimming pool
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Exercise is important for everyone - it keeps us physically fit and has tons of other health benefits including reducing the risk of health problems and boosting our mood. And the same goes for our kids!

Children are becoming increasingly less active, with more time spent online and in front of a screen. So it’s even more important to get our kids moving.

Here we share the benefits of exercise for kids and how you can include more active time into your child’s daily routine.

Benefits of physical activity for kids

Exercise is a vital part of a child’s development from an early age. It enhances growth, mobility and cognitive skills among many other important factors - and has a bunch of other benefits for physical and mental health.

Physical activity is beneficial to children in many ways including:

  • Improves sleep quality
  • Build a stronger heart, bones and muscles
  • Is a chance to socialise
  • Encourages better posture and balance
  • Improves self-esteem and mental health
  • Improves concentration and memory
  • Lowers stress levels and anxiety

How much exercise should kids be doing?

The amount of exercise our child should do depends on their age. Below are the recommended NHS guidelines:

Your child's age Recommended amount of exercise per day
Babies under 1 year Regular movement including 30 minutes of tummy time
Children aged 1 - 2 At least 3 hours including light activity
Children aged 3 - 5 At least 3 hours including moderate to vigorous activity
Children aged 5 -18 years At least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous activity

 

You should encourage your child to do two different types of physical activity every week:

  • Aerobic exercise, or cardio, such as dancing, swimming, running and skipping
  • And muscle strengthening exercise such as gymnastics

Each should be of moderate or vigorous intensity to raise your child’s heart rate - this means that they will breathe faster and feel warmer, but are still able to talk.

Ways to encourage children to exercise

Parents and guardians are a key influence on encouraging children to get active. Here are some top tips for inspiring your family to exercise:

  • Make it fun! The key to regular exercise is enjoyment. Help your child to find activities they like or include challenges to make it interesting and competitive.
  • Keep it varied. Rather than doing the same thing each day, mix it up with different sport clubs, routines or toys.
  • Make exercise part of a daily routine. Schedule exercise into each day whether after school or at the weekends. This will make sure you all have time to get active.
  • Exercise as a family. Physical activity is good for everyone, so get the whole family involved with group walks, bike rides or competitions. It’s a great way to spend valuable time together, make memories and keep fit.
  • Show them how it’s done. By demonstrating yourself to be active, you’ll be more likely to encourage your children to join in. Be a role model by getting involved with sports and other physical activity or doing exercise your children can join in.
  • Limit screen activity. Computers, tablets and video games might be more fun at times, but this free time is perfect for playing outdoors and getting active.
  • Get toys involved. Make exercise part of play time with toys such as hoops, skipping ropes, balls and other active equipment.

Exercise for kids

Exercise doesn’t have to be a boring structured workout. When it comes to engaging kids in exercise, the trick is to do a range of different activities throughout the week to keep it fun and stop them getting restless. Here are some of the best exercises for children:

Jumping

Jumping is an excellent form of cardio that is super easy and super fun! It benefits both muscles and bones as well as balance, circulation and cardiovascular health. Activities involving jumping include skipping, star jumps, hopscotch and the long jump.

Swimming

Learning to swim is an important skill to teach children, but it also has many health benefits. Swimming is shown to keep lungs healthy, improve strength and increase stamina. You can encourage swimming through joining classes, going to the local pool or learning a water sport once your child can confidently swim. If your child is allergic to chlorine, they may be sensitive to the water in public pools. 

Martial Arts

Martial arts is an excellent activity for both physical and mental health. As well as balance and coordination skills, martial arts is a fun group class that encourages social skills, confidence and respect for others.

Gymnastics

Gymnastics is a great form of muscle strengthening exercise that encourages better posture, coordination and self-control. It’s a popular group exercise in and outside of school that helps children to socialise whilst staying active.

Football

Football is a fast sport that encourages lots of running, jumping and aerobic movements. It also naturally teaches children to play together and develop teamwork skills whilst inspiring some healthy competition.

If your child is asthmatic, they can still partake in most activities. Find out more in our guide to exercise and asthma.

Regular exercise is an important part of a child’s growth with many physical and mental health benefits. Young children under 5 should be active for approximately 3 hours per day, whilst older children need at least 60 minutes of exercise.

Staying active doesn’t have to be boring - kids will benefit from a host of different types of physical activity. Make movement a fun part of your child’s daily routine with toys, competitions and by getting the whole family involved.

Get more tips and advice on how to support your child’s development such as our guide to healthy eating and collection of children’s supplements including Vitamin D and other must-have minerals.

References:

www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-guidelines/physical-activity-guidelines-children-under-five-years