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Benefits of an Active Lifestyle for Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What do I need to know about an active lifestyle?

An active lifestyle means your child does physical activity throughout the day. Any activity that gets your child up and moving is part of an active lifestyle. Physical activity includes exercise such as walking or lifting weights. It also includes playing sports. Physical activity is different from other kinds of activity, such as reading a book. This kind of activity is called sedentary. A sedentary lifestyle means your child sits or does not move much during the day. An active lifestyle has many benefits, such as helping your child prevent or manage health conditions.

What are the benefits of an active lifestyle?

  • Your child will develop good habits for a lifetime. An active childhood can help your child develop healthy habits to continue as an adult. Children tend to be naturally active and have a lot of energy. Encourage your child to be active all day.
  • Your child may be able to do daily activities more easily. Activity helps condition your child's heart, lungs, and muscles. This can help him or her get through the day without feeling tired.
  • Your child can help control his or her weight. Activity helps your child's body use the calories he or she eats instead of storing them as fat. Your child's body continues to burn calories at a higher rate after he or she is active.
  • Activity can increase your child's health. Activity helps lower your child's risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Activity can help control blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and lower cholesterol. If your child has juvenile arthritis, activity can help his or her joints move more easily and with less pain.
  • Your child's bones and muscles will get stronger. This is especially important as your child goes through puberty and experiences body changes. The growth and strength of your child's bones and muscles will help him or her in adulthood.
  • Activity can help improve your child's mood. Activity can reduce or prevent depression and stress. Activity can also help improve your child's sleep.

What are the risks of a sedentary lifestyle?

A sedentary lifestyle increases your child's risk for diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Your child's immune system also becomes weaker. This means it cannot fight infections well.

How much activity does my child need?

  • Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of activity each day. The amount your child needs depends on his or her age and overall health. If your child is overweight, he or she may need more activity.
  • Your adolescent's healthcare provider may also recommend weightlifting as part of his or her activity. Talk to your child's provider before he or she does any weightlifting activity.
    Strength Training for Teens
  • A child of any age can help build stronger muscles by lifting items around the house. Exercises such as pushups can also help build muscle.

What steps can I take to help my child create an active lifestyle?

  • Help your child set goals. Set some long-term goals and some short-term goals. For example, your child may want to be able to ride his or her bicycle or run with friends more easily. Try not to put time requirements on your child's goals. For example, do not think your child should reach a goal in a month. Set smaller goals, such as riding a bicycle a little longer each week.
  • Teach your child to be active all day. Activity does not have to mean structured exercise each day. Your child can be more active by making small changes all day. For example, try parking as far from the entrance of buildings as you can when your child runs errands with you. If possible, walk or ride bikes instead of taking a car. Take the stairs with your child instead of the elevator.
  • Limit your child's screen time. Screen time is the amount of television, computer, smart phone, and video game time your child has each day. It is important to limit screen time. This helps your child get enough sleep, physical activity, and social interaction each day. Your child's pediatrician can help you create a screen time plan. The daily limit is usually 1 hour for children 2 to 5 years. The daily limit is usually 2 hours for children 6 years or older. You can also set limits on the kinds of devices your child can use, and where he or she can use them. Keep the plan where your child and anyone who takes care of him or her can see it. Create a plan for each child in your family. You can also go to for more help creating a plan.
  • Keep a record of your child's activity and progress. You can do this by writing down your child's daily activity. Include the kind of activity and how long your child did it. You can also use a program on your child's phone or other device that will track activity. Also record your child's progress. He or she may be doing daily activities more easily, sleeping better, or building muscles.

What are some tips to help my child stay on track?

  • Offer your child support and encouragement. Your child may respond better than if you punish him or her for not being active. Give your child positive feedback when he or she is more active. When you see your child being sedentary, encourage activity. Your child may be more likely to be active if you offer to do an activity with him or her.
  • Have your child start slowly and work up. Your child does not have to do 60 minutes of activity at one time. He or she can break the activity up and do a few minutes at a time. Help your child remember that some physical activity is better than none.
  • Help your child plan activities he or she enjoys. Have your child do a variety of activities so he or she does not become bored. Include activities that strengthen your child's bones. These activities are called weight-bearing exercises. Examples include hopscotch, jumping rope, and running. Swimming, riding a bike, and similar exercises keep weight off your child's bones. They will not help strengthen bones, but they will help your child's heart and lungs work better.
  • Ask for support from the people in your child's life. Go for a walk after dinner with your child. Take your child to the park to meet friends. Help your child get involved in community events, such as cleaning a community park. Ask someone to help your child stay on track. For example, your child can tell the person about his or her daily or weekly activity.
    Family Walking for Exercise
  • Offer your child rewards. The rewards can be for activity done for a certain amount of time each day or days each week. Rewards can also be for progress your child makes. Offer rewards that are not food. If possible, offer rewards that you do not have to buy, such as toys. For example, a reward can be to go somewhere your child enjoys.

What do I need to know about nutrition and activity?

Healthy foods will give your child the energy he or she needs to be active. Activity and good nutrition work together to help your child reach or maintain a healthy weight. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, cooked beans, whole-grain breads, and low-fat dairy products. Your child's healthcare provider can help you create a healthy meal plan. He or she can tell you how many calories your child needs to stay active and still lose weight if needed.

Healthy Foods

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • You notice changes in your child's health, such as new or worsening shortness of breath.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.