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Physical activity and teens

The amount of physical activity that teens and pre-teens do has important benefits for their health.

Benefits of physical activity

Many people don’t know just how good physical activity can be for teens and pre-teens. Some of the benefits of regular physical activity include helping them to:

  • develop better fitness and heart health
  • reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and some cancers
  • develop strong muscles and bones
  • reach and maintain a healthy weight
  • learn new skills and maintain healthy growth and development
  • find opportunities to have fun with friends and make new ones
  • reduce anxiety and stress
  • boost self-esteem and confidence
  • develop healthy exercise habits for life.
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How much exercise?

Encourage teens to try to get at least 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity every day. This can be done all in one go or broken up into different activities throughout the day.

‘Moderate-intensity’ means activities such as brisk walking where your heart rate is slightly increased. Examples of moderate intensity activities include:

  • brisk walking
  • bike riding
  • skateboarding
  • dancing.

‘Vigorous’ intensity activity makes you puff enough so that talking in full sentences between breaths is difficult. Activities that count as ‘vigorous’ include:

  • faster team sports such as soccer, netball, basketball and squash
  • jogging, aerobic (‘cardio’) or circuit classes at a gym or fitness centre, fast cycling or fast rowing, cross-country skiing and speed walking.

If your child isn’t doing much exercise at the moment, exercising 60 minutes a day might be difficult. However, they can start off with shorter periods of physical activity each day and gradually build up their exercise time as they get fitter.

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Balancing screen time

As teens and pre-teens use computers and mobile devices more, the amount of time they spend doing physical activities decreases, and this puts them at a greater risk of becoming obese. Studies of adolescent behaviour have shown that increased time spent viewing TV or using a computer is associated with being overweight.

Teens and pre-teens are recommended to have no more than two hours of screen time a day, unless it’s for educational purposes.

Parents can help children create a balance by keeping an eye on how much screen time they are getting and encouraging them to have regular physical activity.

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Tips for getting active

Although teens and pre-teens are often active at school in physical education (PE) and sport lessons, it’s important that they keep this up at home. Try to help them incorporate physical activity into their daily lives so that it becomes a habit and something that they also do at weekends and in the holidays when they aren’t at school.

It’s also important to set an example and be an active role model for your teens.

Some ways you can help teens to include physical activity in their weekly routine include encouraging them to:

  • walk or cycle to and from school if possible
  • join a sports club, gym or dance class
  • try activities such as yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi or other martial arts
  • walk the dog
  • replace short car trips with a walk or bike ride.
  • exercise with the family – go to the park, swimming pool or for a bike ride at the weekend. This is also a good opportunity for you to enjoy getting active together.
  • swap at least 30 minutes of television or computer time for the same amount of physical activity each day.

Remember, any amount of physical activity has benefits for your child and also for yourself!

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Further information

Raising Children Network

The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. A healthy lifestyle for a healthy weight.

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Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA). Get out and get active. Australia’s physical activity recommendations for 12-18 year olds. [online] 2004. [Accessed 23 Sept 2013] Available from:

DOHA. Physical Activity Guidelines. [online] [Accessed 23 Sept 2013, last updated May 2013] Available from:

Kautiainan S Koivustilta L Lintonen T Virtanen SM Rimpela A. Use of information and communication technology and prevalence of overweight and obesity among adolescents (online). International Journal of Obesity. 2005; 29: 925–933.

Raising Children Network. Encouraging a positive attitude to sport. [online] [Accessed 23 Sep 2013, last updated June 2011] Available from:

Raising Children Network. Keeping children and teenagers active. [online] [Accessed 23 Sep 2013, last updated May 2011] Available from:

Raising Children Network. Screen time and children. [online] [Accessed 23 Sep 2013, last updated Feb 2012] Available from:

Subrahmanyam K Kraut R Greenfield P Gross E. The Impact of Home Computer use on Children’s Activities and Development (online). The Future of Children. 2000; 10(2): 123–144.

Last updated: 30 September 2013

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

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