In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) released new guidelines on physical activity in children (1). The bottom line is, children need to “sit less and play more.” But we all knew that. So what specifically is recommended for our children to grow up healthy?
Babies (0 to 1 year) should get 30 minutes of tummy time (crawling or walking time is fine too if they are up for it already).
Toddlers (1 to 2 years) should get 180 minutes (that is 3 hours) of physical activity during the day. That includes any physical activity.
Kids between 3 to 5 years should also get 3 hours of physical activity during the day, but they should have at least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity (such as running or playing a sport).
For all ages, more activity is better than less, and children should not be restrained in a seat (stroller, car seat, bouncer,…) for more than 1 hour at a time. Since the first year is a period of rapid growth, we would like to expand the WHO recommendation a bit:
0 to 3 months: Introduce tummy time, as long as can be tolerated by your child
3 to 6 months: Try to have 10-20 minutes of tummy time each day (depending on your child)
6 to 9 months: Aim for the recommended 30 minutes of tummy time or crawling activity
9 to 12 months: Physical activity should increase to 45 minutes or more
Why should you make your child get active? Because research shows that physical activity is beneficial for your child’s physical and mental health and development. For example, a recent study reports that children who walk or ride a bike to school are less likely to be obese than children who ride in buses or cars (2). A walk to school can add 30 to 60 minutes (or more) of light to moderate physical activity to your child’s day depending on your location (the study was done in London, so most families lived close enough to walk to school). Obesity rates in the US and other countries are on the rise, and the main cause seems to be a lack of physical activity rather than junk food (3). Further, most research studies that have examined whether physical activity is beneficial for academic performance found evidence for such a relation (4). More physical activity seems to lead to better grades at school. Schools should add more emphasis to physical activity during the day and expand – rather than cut – recess times (4).
Some schools in Canada are getting creative and found ways to increase the physical activity of their students by making them jump and hop down the hallways (5). These little burst of activity between lessons are part of a “Don’t walk in the hallway” program (6), and the physical activity is adding up and paying off. Kids take up to 1000 extra steps each day and are having fun at school (6). Check out two videos of the program in action below:
Schools in the USA should follow this great example and get their kids more active at school. When it comes to physical activity, there is a lot to gain and nothing to lose – except for a few pounds and their lifetime risk for obesity. Do you know a teacher or principal? Feel free to share this article to spread the word.