How much activity do children need?

Children and young people need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day – though this can be broken up into chunks of 10 minutes or more throughout the day.

It is recommended that at least twice a week this activity includes weight-bearing activities such as running and jumping to improve bone health, muscle strength and flexibility.

It is important to remember that children are not simply ‘small adults’ and so their physical activity needs are quite different to those of adults. Young children have an inbuilt desire to be active and love to explore their surroundings from a very early age. This desire to be active needs to be both allowed for and encouraged. For example, if we don’t allow a child to be active (keeping them in a pushchair most of the time) and don’t encourage them to be active (not providing them with appropriate space to play or allowing them to watch TV for hours on end) then invariably they will ‘learn’ to be inactive and not develop the necessary skills for an active life.

What does ‘moderate to vigorous physical activity’ mean?

Clearly there are different levels of activity, from low intensity activity such as a slow walk to high intensity activity such as running up a steep hill. Moderate physical activity is any activity that causes your heart to beat slightly faster and your breathing to noticeably deepen but not leave you feeling out of breath. Vigorous activity is of a higher intensity causing a big increase in heart rate (you really feel your heart pumping) and your breathing becomes much faster and deeper leaving you feeling out of breath and sweaty.

Examples of moderate and vigorous physical activities for children:

Type of physical activity

Activity example

Moderate, aerobic

Walking to school
Gentle bike ride

Vigorous, aerobic

Active games involving running and chasing, such as tag
Fast bike riding
Sports such as football or basketball

Muscle strengthening

Rope or tree climbing
Swinging on play equipment such as ‘monkey’ bars

Bone strengthening

Games such as hopscotch
Sports such as gymnastics or basketball