BACKGROUND: Children with type 1 diabetes should be encouraged to participate in physical activity because exercise can benefit insulin sensitivity and improve known risk factors for atherosclerosis. METHODS: Physical activity patterns of 127 children and adolescents with stable type 1 diabetes were investigated by 24 hour continuous heart rate monitoring. The percentage of heart rate reserve was used to measure the amounts of physical activity at different intensities. The results were compared with normative data. RESULTS: Diabetic preschoolchildren accumulated 192.7 (78.1), 39.1 (24.3), and 21.3 (9.4) minutes/day (mean (SD)) of light, moderate, and vigorous physical activity, respectively. At the same activity levels, diabetic schoolchildren accumulated 168.9 (76.7), 37.9 (15.9), and 19.0 (14.8) minutes/day, and diabetic teenagers accumulated 166.3 (67.5), 45.6 (26.9), and 25.2 (15.3) minutes/day. Diabetic schoolchildren were significantly more active than healthy peers when considering moderate activity; diabetic teenagers were significantly more active when considering moderate and vigorous activity. There was a negative correlation between the most recent glycated haemoglobin and the time spent in light activities in schoolchildren, and a negative correlation between mean glycated haemoglobin for one year and time spent in light and moderate activities in schoolchildren. CONCLUSION: The majority of our diabetic patients meet the classical paediatric guidelines for physical activity and compare favourably with their healthy peers.