The Importance of Physical Activity

Guidelines, Benefits and Current Data

Physical Activity Guidelines

The World Health Organisation suggests that Children and adolescents aged 5-17 years should:
  • do at least an average of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity (MVPA), mostly aerobic, physical activity, across the week.
  • incorporate vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 days a week.
  • limit the amount of time spent being sedentary, particularly the amount of recreational screen time.

Benefits of Physical Activity

Improves bone and heart health, cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength

Reduces symptoms of anxiety, increases confidence, supports self-esteem and happiness

Enhances academic attainment, cognitive performance, focus and concentration as well as memory function

So how is England, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland currently doing?


A study, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and published in the International Journal of Obesity, found 61 per cent of children in  Year 1 in England did at least an hour of MVPA per day. By Year 6, only 41 per cent achieved the target. The drop was particularly steep for girls, who fell from 54 to 28 per cent by the time they finished primary school.

However, Health Survey for England (2015) showed that including activities during school lessons, 21% of all children aged 5 to 15 met the physical activity guidelines of at least 60 minutes of activity each day of the week. This proportion was higher for boys than for girls (24% of boys, 18% of girls). 

Additionally, the proportion of children meeting the guidelines decreased with age for both sexes (which is in line with BHF findings outline previously), but this decline was most marked for girls aged between 11 and 15. Girls were more likely than boys to be classified in the ‘low activity’ group (32% of girls, 24% of boys), meaning that they did fewer than 30 minutes of MVPA on each day, or MVPA of 60 minutes or more on fewer than three days in the last week, even when activities during school lessons were taken into account. This proportion increased with age for both sexes, but the increase with age was more marked for girls.

Data from the 2017/18 National Child Measurement Programme shows that 10 per cent of four to five-year-olds in England were obese – doubling to 20 per cent for 10 to 11-year-olds, while 90 per cent of children who are obese at age three remain overweight or obese in adolescence. 

Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland

In Northern Ireland, research from the Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study (2018) shows that 13% of Northern Irish children met the physical activity guidelines (20% primary school pupils, 11% post-primary school pupils) of at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day. Fewer girls met the guidelines, compared to boys (10% vs. 16%). Higher levels of self-reported happiness were associated with more days where at least 60 minutes MVPA was achieved. Primary school pupils in Northern Ireland spend on average 5 hours in sedentary leisure time per day.

In the Republic of Ireland, 13% of children met the National Physical Activity Guidelines of at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day (17% primary school pupils and 10% post primary school pupils). These figures are lower than the 19% and 12% recorded in primary and post primary schools respectively in 2010. Higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were positively associated with the number of days on which the Guidelines were achieved.

How Healthy Kidz can help your children meet their physical activity targets

Benefits of Phyiscal Activity References

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