Activities for children and young people

Children and young people need to be active at home, at school, at play during the weekends and in the community. They should do at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous physical activity spread over each day.

For our guidelines on how much physical activity children and teenagers should do, go to How much activity is recommended?

Encourage your kids to be active

Photo of kids biking along a forest track.

Physical activity helps your child to:

  • develop strong muscles, bones and joints
  • move with balance and flexibility
  • develop and maintain a healthy heart and lungs
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • build self-confidence and social skills.

Encourage children and young people to look for opportunities to move throughout their day, eg, walking or biking to school, taking the stairs not the escalator.

Encourage them to try new activities or sports and to discover which ones they most enjoy. Support these interests. Give feedback and praise.

Activity ideas

Aerobic activities

Aerobic activities increase the heart rate and keep kids fit.

  • Moderate-intensity activities make them breathe harder and their hearts beat faster.
  • Vigorous-intensity activities make them puffed (so they can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath).

Ideas for moderate-intensity activities

Activities like cycling can be moderate or vigorous depending on the effort level.
  • Rollerblading
  • Skateboarding
  • Brisk walking
  • Cycling
  • Dancing
  • Kapa haka
  • Games that require catching and throwing (like T-ball, for children, or softball)
  • Housework and yard work (for young people)

Ideas for vigorous-intensity activities

  • Active games – running and chasing games like tag (for kids), games like Ultimate Frisbee (for young people)
  • Cycling
  • Skipping
  • Martial arts like karate
  • Running
  • Sports like football, netball, rugby, touch rugby, swimming, hockey
  • Dancing
  • Waka ama
  • Bouncing on a trampoline

Muscle-strengthening activities

Muscle-strengthening activities build strength in the muscles, tendons and ligaments. They improve joint function and reduce the risk of injury.

Ideas for muscle-strengthening activities

  • Games like tug-of-war
  • Modified push-ups (for children), push-ups and pull-ups (for young people)
  • Rope or tree climbing (for children), climbing walls (for young people)
  • Sit-ups
  • Swinging on playground equipment/bars (for children)
  • Resistance exercises with exercise bands, weight machines, hand-held weights (for young people)

Bone-strengthening activities

Bone-strengthening activities are just what they sound like – plus they can double as aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities!

Ideas for bone-strengthening activities

  • Games like hopscotch (for children)
  • Hopping, skipping, jumping
  • Bouncing on a trampoline
  • Rope skipping
  • Running
  • Sports like gymnastics, basketball, volleyball

Maintaining healthy body weight

Being active will help your child reach and stay at a healthy body weight and sleep better. It can also be fun for the whole family.

  • Walk, run, play and be active with your child. By being physically active yourself, you are setting a good example.
  • If your child is not usually active, start with 5–10 minutes of easy activity a day and increase that time a little each week. Aim to build up to at least 1 hour of activity each day – you can spread that hour over the day.
  • Instead of getting in the car for short trips, like to and from school, try walking, biking or scooting with your child. Start by doing this once a week, and add more trips over time. Try setting up a walking school bus with other families.
  • Encourage your child to play outside as much as possible, including during breaks at school.
  • Encourage your child to join a school sports team, local sports club, dance group, scouts or other active recreation group.
  • Try to do something fun and active as a family each week. Some ideas are going on beach or bush walks, kicking a ball outside, playing a game of tag or basketball or tennis, going to the local swimming pool or flying a kite at the park.

Active transport

269,000 children (45%) aged 5–14 years usually use active transport to get to school.

Active transport (eg, walking, cycling and scooting) provides an opportunity for children of all abilities to take part in physical activity.

Limit screen time

1 in 2 children aged 5–14 usually watch 2 or more hours of television each day.

It’s easy just to let kids sit inside in front of the TV or the game console. We all need to sit less and move more – kids and adults.

  • Encourage children to get out and get active.
  • Keep screen time to less than 2 hours a day.

Keeping them safe

Some physical activity can result in injury – but it’s generally preventable.

Make sure your child:

  • wears appropriate clothing and footwear
  • wears sunscreen for outdoor activities in summer
  • knows about and practices footpath and road safety
  • has the right safety gear and wears it correctly (eg, helmet for cycling or roller blading, knee and elbow pads for roller blading, lifejacket for on the water).

For most children and young people, the benefits of physical activity outweigh any risks. And remember – muscle- and bone-strengthening activities both reduce the chances of injury!

Plus, getting them in good habits now means they’re at less risk of chronic diseases and obesity later in life.

Don’t go overboard

Kids don’t need formal muscle-strengthening programmes such as weight lifting. For younger kids, things like gymnastics, climbing trees and playing on the jungle gym will strengthen their muscles just fine.

Older children and teenagers may start structured resistance or strength training (and circuit training) as part of sports programmes or generally to increase their strength.

Children and teens who are still growing should avoid power lifting, body building and maximal lifts.

Related websites

Be Active Every Day: Physical Activity for 5- to 18-year-olds
A HealthEd pamphlet with tips to help kids do the activity they need to stay fit and healthy.

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