Physical activity guidelines for children and young people

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

To stay healthy or to improve health, young people need to do three types of physical activity each week: aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activity.

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:


Physical activity for young people aged 5-18


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


At least 60 minutes (1 hour) of physical activity every day, which should range between moderate-intensity activity, such as cycling and playground activities and vigorous-intensity activity, such as fast running and tennis.

On three days a week, these activities should involve muscle-strengthening activities, such as push-ups, and bone-strengthening activities, such as running.

Many vigorous-intensity activities can help you meet your weekly muscle- and bone-strengthening requirements, such as running, skipping, gymnastics, martial arts and football.

Young people should also avoid long periods of sitting as sedentary behaviour is now considered an independent risk factor for ill health, no matter how much exercise you do. Find out why sitting is bad for your health

What counts as moderate-intensity activity?
Examples of activities that require moderate effort for most young people include:

Don't sit for too long

Children and young people should minimise the amount of time they spend sitting watching TV, playing computer games, and travelling by car when they could walk or cycle instead.

  • 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-intensity aerobic activity means you're working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can't sing the words to a song.

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What counts as vigorous-intensity activity?
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-intensity aerobic activity means you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. 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 counts as muscle-strengthening activity?

Healthy weight

  • Children and young people who are overweight can improve their health by meeting the activity guidelines, even if they don’t lose weight.
  • To reach a healthy weight, they may need to do more than the recommended 60 minutes of activity a day and also make changes to their diet.

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 climbing a rope.

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 counts as bone-strengthening activity?
Bone-strengthening activities produce an impact or tension force 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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Page last reviewed: 11/07/2013

Next review due: 11/07/2015


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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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Active ways to get to school

There are numerous ways for children to get to school that are both fun and healthy. This video documents some of the modes of travel that can help children grow strong bones, maintain a healthy weight, and discover the world around them.

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