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Physical activity guidelines for children and young people

How much physical activity do children and young people aged 5 to 18 need to do to keep healthy?

To stay healthy or to improve health, young people need to do 3 types of physical activity each week: aerobic and exercises to strengthen bones and muscles.

The amount of physical activity you need to do each week is determined by your age. Click on the links below for the recommendations for other age groups:

Guidelines for 5 to 18-year-olds 

To maintain a basic level of health, children and young people aged 5 to 18 need to do:

Many vigorous activities can help you build strong muscles and bones, such as anything involving running and jumping, like gymnastics, martial arts and football.

Children and young people should reduce the time they spend sitting watching TV, playing computer games and travelling by car when they could walk or cycle instead. Find out why sitting is bad for your health

What counts as moderate activity?

Examples of activities that require moderate effort for most young people include:

  • walking to school
  • playing in the playground
  • riding a scooter
  • skateboarding
  • rollerblading
  • walking the dog
  • cycling on level ground or ground with few hills

Moderate activity raises your heart rate and makes you sweat. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate level is if you can still talk, but you can't sing the words to a song.

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What counts as vigorous activity?

Vigorous activity is linked with better general health, stronger bones and muscles, as well as higher levels of self-esteem.

There is good evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity.

A rule of thumb is that one minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity.

There's currently no recommendation on how long a session of vigorous activity should be for this age group.

Examples of activities that require vigorous effort for most young people include:

  • playing chase
  • energetic dancing
  • swimming
  • running
  • gymnastics
  • football
  • rugby
  • martial arts, such as karate
  • cycling fast or on hilly terrain

Vigorous activity makes you breathe hard and fast. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

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What activities strengthen muscles?

Muscle strength is necessary for daily activities, to build and maintain strong bones, to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and to help maintain a healthy weight.

For young people, muscle-strengthening activities are those that require them to lift their own body weight or to work against a resistance, such as lifting a weight.

Examples of muscle-strengthening activities suitable for children include:

  • games such as tug of war
  • swinging on playground equipment bars
  • gymnastics
  • rope or tree climbing
  • sit-ups, press ups etc.
  • gymnastics
  • football
  • rugby
  • tennis

Examples of muscle-strengthening activities suitable for young people include:

  • sit-ups, press ups etc.
  • gymnastics
  • resistance exercises with exercise bands, weight machines or hand-held weights
  • rock climbing
  • football
  • basketball
  • tennis

Children and young people should take part in activities that are appropriate for their age and stage of development.

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What activities strengthen bones?

Bone-strengthening activities produce an impact on the bones that promotes bone growth and strength.

Examples of bone-strengthening activities for children include:

  • activities that require children to lift their body weight or to work against a resistance
  • jumping and climbing activities, combined with the use of playground equipment and toys
  • games such as hopscotch
  • skipping with a rope
  • walking
  • running
  • gymnastics
  • dance
  • football
  • basketball
  • martial arts

Examples of bone-strengthening activities for young people include:

  • dance
  • aerobics
  • weight-training
  • running
  • gymnastics
  • football
  • rughby
  • netball
  • hockey
  • badminton
  • tennis
  • skipping with a rope
  • martial arts

Children and young people should take part in activities that are appropriate for their age and stage of development.

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Download a factsheet on physical activity guidelines for children and young people (5 to 18 years) (PDF, 554kb).

Page last reviewed: 11/07/2015

Next review due: 11/07/2017

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Comments

The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

edunn said on 29 December 2012

I am unable to download the pdfs. not sure why as i do not have problems on other websites. I am using Windows 7 .
Does anyone have any ideas as i only get pages of text/code type .
Tried the plate and child activity guidlines.

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underd0g said on 30 July 2012

These exercises are very children orientated. I'm 16 and I know as soon as you hit being a teenager you can cross the majority of these off. Hopscotch? Tug of war? Playground? Please. And going through exams no one will have time for this...

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EmilyyA said on 11 February 2012

I'm an 18 year old girl who's in university, I have no time to exercise and all of these are based on children.

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