Finding the balance between physical activity and sedentary behaviour

Children playing football

When it comes to growing good habits, the whole day matters. Striking the balance between being active, sitting, and sleeping supports kids to be at their best.

What is physical activity?

Physical activity is any activity that gets kids moving, makes their breathing become quicker and their hearts beat faster.

What is sedentary behaviour?

Sedentary behaviour is characterised by sitting or lying down (except for when children are sleeping). Recreational screen time can be a big contributor to children’s sedentary behaviour.

What do the guidelines suggest children should aim for?

Birth to 5 years

From birth, babies should participate in supervised floor-based play in safe environments. Babies and children under 2 years of age should have no exposure to TV or other screens.

Toddlers and pre-schoolers should be physically active every day for at least three hours, spread throughout the day. Children 2 to 5 years of age should not be sitting and watching television or using other electronic media for more than one hour per day.

All children should not be sedentary, restrained, or kept inactive, for more than 1 hour at a time, except when sleeping.

For more, read the Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (Birth to 5 years).

Children and young people aged 5-17 years

Children and young people should aim to get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. This should include a variety of aerobic activity such as playing sport, riding to school, playing in the backyard, swimming and skipping. Anything that makes kids ‘huff and puff’ counts. It doesn’t have to be all at once – smaller bursts of activity across the day count towards the 60-minute daily target.

On at least 3 days per week, children should engage in vigorous physical activities that strengthen muscle and bone. Strengthening activities include skipping, running, jumping, and climbing.

Light activities such as leisurely walking and playing handball are important because they keep kids up and moving, but they don’t count towards the 60-minute daily target. Aim for several hours of light activity each day.

Sedentary recreational screen time should be limited to no more than 2 hours a day. This includes watching TV, playing video games, and recreational mobile phone and computer use.

For more, read the Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Young People (5-17 years).

Long periods of sitting can counteract the benefits of being active.

At least 60 minutes a day – in many different ways

Children’s daily physical activity doesn’t have to be done all in one go. Their 60 minutes can be accumulated throughout the day, and even if your child doesn’t play sport, there are lots of other activities they can still do.

If your child is not yet doing 60 minutes of physical activity every day, they will still benefit from gradually increasing their activity to reach this amount.

Getting enough sleep

Sleep also contributes to children’s health and wellbeing. Find out how much sleep your child needs, and how to support healthy sleep patterns and routines.

Content developed by Children’s Health Queensland © The State of Queensland (Children’s Health Queensland) 2019.