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Helping your children to be active

You can help your children or any children you look after to be active. Children with parents or guardians who are active are up to 6 times more likely to be active themselves.

Staying active as a family plays a role in:

  • helping your children maintain a healthier weight
  • decreasing the risk of children developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease
  • helping children to build strong muscles, healthy bones, movement and co-ordination
  • improving children's learning and attention
  • improving children's self-esteem, mood, energy and sleep patterns

How much physical activity children need

Children need to be active every day. All activity counts, no matter how short. This can be organised sports, activities, movement or active play at home.

Children should be active for at least 60 minutes or more every day at a moderate to vigorous intensity.


Moderate activity is when breathing and heart rate increase, but a conversation is still possible.

Vigorous activity is when breathing becomes heavy, heart rate becomes faster and it’s hard to keep a conversation going.

Physical activity for children

Physical activity for different age groups

Children learn more physical skills in their first 6 years than at any other point in their lives. These are called basic or fundamental movement skills. They are the building blocks for lifelong activity.

Babies and physical activity

It’s just as important for babies to be active as it is for toddlers and older children.

Your baby needs lots of opportunities for free movement in a supervised and nurturing play environment.

Limit your baby’s inactivity to no more than 1 hour a day except when they’re asleep.

Before your baby begins to crawl:

  • play on a floor mat with your baby
  • put a toy just outside their reach, so they have to make an extra effort to stretch and reach for it
  • place your baby on their tummy for a short time every day so they can stretch and develop their muscles
  • encourage them to be active by reaching, rolling, pulling, pushing and learning to move their head, arms, legs and body


Always supervise your baby when playing on their tummy. Never let them fall asleep on their tummy.

Toddlers and physical activity

Get your toddler active every day for at least 3 hours, spread through the day. Young children are naturally active and are always on the move.


  • light activities, such as building blocks or playing on the floor
  • more vigorous activities such as running and jumping
  • ball activities like kicking, catching and throwing
  • music and action songs
  • chasing games
  • copycat activities such as skip, jump, hop

Rest and napping in between active play is important too. Activities like drawing and making puzzles contribute to your child’s overall development.

Encouraging babies and toddlers to be active (Youtube video)

Physical activity for children over 3

If your child is over 3 years old and can walk by themselves, they should be physically active for at least 3 hours every day.

Tips for keeping children over 3 active:

  • Plan at least 1 hour of structured and energetic activity, for example, swimming or playing a game of chase.
  • Spread some activity out over the day in short sessions of 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Limit the time your young child is not active to an hour a day, except when they’re asleep.
  • Make sure they play outdoors as well as indoors daily.
  • Encourage your child to develop a wide range of movement skills - for example using a climbing frame, riding a bike, playing in water.

Screen time

Children aged 18 to 24 months should spend as little time as possible in front of a screen.

Do not let children under 5 spend more than 1 hour a day watching television or screens.

For children over 5, have clear limits about screen time. A good guide is no more than 2 hours each day.

Screen time and young children

Physical activity for children with health conditions or disabilities

Talk to your GP before increasing your child’s physical activity if your child has any kind of health condition or disability. Most health conditions are helped by being physically active.

If your child has a movement or sensory difficulty, you can adapt the activity.

Find activities in your area for children with disabilities -

Listen to your child and give them opportunities to be as active as possible for their ability.

Get your child motivated

Tips for encouraging activity in children:

  • Get active yourself - children learn through example
  • Choose the right activities for your child's age and interests - if you don't, your child might become bored or frustrated.
  • Keep the focus on fun - children may find it hard to do something they don't enjoy.
  • Play active games with your children - such as ball games, skipping, running games.

Examples of activities for children

Think about encouraging your child or teenager to get active through:

  • active recreation, such as hiking or skateboarding
  • walking, running, cycling or swimming
  • team sports including Gaelic football, hurling, basketball or tennis
  • martial arts, such as karate
  • active games involving running, chasing, throwing and catching
  • walking, cycling, scooting or rolling to school

Strengthening and flexibility exercises

You can help your child even more by including muscle-strengthening, flexibility and bone-strengthening exercises. Your child should do these 2 to 3 times a week.

Examples of strengthening and flexibility exercises for younger children:

  • games such as tug-of-war
  • rope climbing
  • swinging on playground equipment

Examples of strengthening and flexibility exercises for older children:

  • climbing walls, sit-ups, push-ups
  • strength exercises with resistance bands
  • sports such as gymnastics or dance

Develop a healthier lifestyle

Find more ways to get your child active.

START - ideas for getting active and ways to make a positive, healthy start -

Watch a video about exercises for children (Youtube video)

Page last reviewed: 26 January 2023
Next review due: 26 January 2026