Clinical health information Physical activity and teens August 15 2019
Judith Ngai Judith Ngai Health writer

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. A daily cycle that includes regular periods of movement can have many health benefits, helping them to:

  • sleep more soundly at night
  • 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.

How much exercise?

Encourage teens to try to get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day.  Three days a week, they may include exercises that strengthen muscle and bones, such as sit ups, lunges and squats.

‘Moderate-intensity’ means activities 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.

Teens can incorporate up to three hours of physical activity into their day, which may be done all in one go or broken up into different activities throughout the day.

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. 

Teens and pre-teens are recommended to have no more than two hours of screen time a day, unless it’s for educational purposes. It’s important that these periods of sitting during screen time is broken up as often as possible by standing and stretching, or even taking a short walk. 

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. 

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. You can encourage your children to try different sports to find activities they enjoy. 

Help them incorporate physical activity into their daily lives by starting slowly, building up to an hour a day.  This allows it to become a habit and something that they can do at weekends and in the holidays when they aren’t at school. 

Getting proper, uninterrupted sleep is also crucial for teens and preteens during a 24-hour cycle, influencing their ability to be more physically active during the day. It is recommended 14 to 17 year olds get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night with consistent wake up and bed times.

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 can also be 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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Judith Ngai Judith Ngai Health writer Judith is a pharmacist and health content specialist.

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Raising Children Network. Physical activity for older children and teenagers [Online; accessed 14 May 2019, last updated Mar 2018] Available from: raisingchildren.net.au 

Raising children network. Teenage screen time: tips for balance [Online; accessed 14 May 2019, last updated Apr 2019] Available from: raisingchildren.net.au