Exercise should be enjoyable at all ages, but it’s especially important that children enjoy moving to build long-lasting habits and help them to achieve and maintain optimal physical and mental health.

In this article, we will cover

  • The physical benefits of exercise in kids
  • The benefits of exercise in kid’s mental health
  • How to get your kids to move more

Engaging in physical activity or exercise offers children the following benefits:

  • Helps to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
  • Increases positive mental health and helps children to relax
  • Improves self-esteem and confidence
  • Helps to build strong bones, muscles and joints
  • Promotes healthy growth and development
  • Reduces the risk of developing and helps to manage chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • Reduces the risk of, and assists with rehabilitation from, some cancers
Research suggests that engaging in physical activity as a child predicts participation in physical activity and exercise as an adult.
This ensures the benefits of physical activity carry through from childhood to adulthood, reducing the risk of chronic disease, illness and injuries.
Conversely, those who do not participate in physical activity as a child are unlikely to be active as adolescents and adults; they are less competent, confident and motivated to move. As well as improving children’s physical health (e.g., fitness and muscle strength), regular exercise also improves their cognition, brain development and function, and their mental health.

Improving mental health in kids with exercise

Children and adolescents with good mental health allow them to think clearly, develop emotionally, learn healthy social skills and develop the resilience to cope with problems that may arise.

Mentally healthy children experience a greater quality of life and can function and develop well at home, in school and in their communities.

  • Exercise benefits relating to mental health include:
  • Improved focus, school performance, sleep and energy levels
  • Improved relationships, social skills and more positive body image
  • Decreasing symptoms of depression, anxiety, pain and loneliness
  • Improved ability to cope with stress and have increased resilience
  • Increased self-esteem and self-worth

How to encourage your children to move more

Find something they enjoy

Whether it’s swimming, playing football or running at the park, enjoyment of exercise is important to build a positive exercise experience and can help improve motivation.

Get the whole family involved

Parents and guardians are great role models and provide the needed support for children to get involved in regular exercise. Organising active family outings such as a walk around the neighbourhood or a bike ride is a great way to increase physical activity levels and explore the local community.

Keep track of what works

Different types of exercise can feel different to each child. Competitive sports may increase mental distress in some children, so involvement in non-competitive sports such as martial arts or skateboarding might be a better option. Other children may thrive in social situations so team sports that they enjoy are ideal to build fitness and friendships. Just remember every child is different and they change over time, but if they are not enjoying or engaging in physical activities then explore other strategies to get them moving.

Track progress and offer rewards

Have a calendar and every time they complete 30 minutes of ‘exercise’ – whether this be walking the dog, playing sport, playing in the street with friends – mark it off. Once they’ve completed 120 minutes a week, reward them with something they’ll be excited about, maybe this will be a trip.

Talk to the experts

If you are concerned that your child is not getting enough physical activity, our Accredited Exercise Physiologists can help improve exercise engagement and ensure a positive exercise experience.
Contact us or phone 03 6122 0150 to book an appointment with one of our Accredited Exercise Physiologists.