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Hiking at Nose Hill Park

Today, The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) and ParticipACTION released guidelines for the first time regarding the physical activity levels for children under five. This was rapidly followed by discussions and arguments about exercise, outdoor play, structured activities, unstructured activities, lazy parents, obesity… the list goes on. There are parents worried that because they aren’t going outside due to health issues. There are parents who worry that while their children run and play throughout the day it isn’t structured exercise. There are parents that are worrying that because their child is in childcare, they’re not getting the required activity. On one site, the discussion got so heated that the moderator had to step in and delete several posts.

Just to be clear. The recommendation is as follows:

“For healthy growth and development, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years recommend:

  • Children under the age of one should be physically active several times daily – particularly through interactive, floor-based play. This should include supervised indoor and outdoor experiences such as tummy time, reaching and grasping, pushing and pulling, and crawling.
  • Children aged one to four should accumulate at least 180 minutes of physical activity at any intensity spread throughout the day. This should include a variety of activities in different environments where children can develop movement skills, such as climbing stairs, playing outside and exploring the environment, brisk walking, running or dancing.
  • By age five, children should progress towards at least 60 minutes of energetic play, such as hopping, skipping and bike riding”*

There’s further recommendations for no screen time for children less than two and less than one hour for two to four year olds. In addition, time spent sitting in strollers, car seats, high chairs, etc. should be limited to less than an hour at a time.

Playing at the YMCA

It’s not an earth shattering recommendation from my perspective… it’s simply recommending that you get your children moving. It doesn’t have to be a formal exercise program, it doesn’t have to be outside, it doesn’t mean that you have to continuously run after them.

It’s three hours, accumulated over the entire day. To break that down, there are 24 hours in the day. The recommended sleep for a one to three year old is 12-14 hours, three to five year old is 11-13 hours. That leaves 10 to 13 hours. They eat for perhaps an hour and a half a day. That leaves 8 1/2 to 11 1/2 hours. Bedtime rituals (discounting the running around) lasts about an hour. Subtract another hour from the day for other dressing, changing, etc.

That still leaves 6 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours a day to be physically active for 3 of them – that’s less than half the time. Yes, there are errands and chores to do… walking around the grocery store counts as physical activity, climbing up the stairs to take your toys to the bedroom counts as physical activity, shovelling the driveway counts as physical activity. Yes, the reality is that many children are in child care – child cares across the country are required to get your children outside and moving, if you’re worried, talk to your child care provider.

In addition to structured physical activities such as gymnastics and skiing, which isn’t possible everyday, there is your everyday toddler/preschooler play… tag, biking, exploring, climbing, sliding, running, being kids. It can be inside, outside, at the park, in the store, at the mall, in the gym… all the recommendation is saying is get your kids moving! Don’t let them spend the day on the couch watching TV, don’t let them play video games for hours on end, don’t confine them to the stroller for the entire day.

Snowshoeing in Kananaskis.

You also have to use your own common sense and not stress too much over the recommendations. The recommendation for the less than one hour in a car seat at a time – that would be impossible for us to follow everyday. The mountains are at minimum an hour away… but in between car rides there and back my son is very active on the trail or ski slope. The days we’re in the car for eight hours driving to grandma’s and grandpa’s; while we make several stops for breaks, my son is confined to his car seat for more than one hour at a time and doesn’t get three hours of physical activity time. Those days my son is sick, he’ll have more screen time than recommended by a long shot and will probably be very inactive. There will be days that it’ll only be two hours but the next would be four or five but over any given week it’ll average out to three at the very least.

The recommendation isn’t telling you that it must be inside or outside, structured or unstructure, play or exercise. They are saying that children need to be physically active 180 minutes a day. So let’s stop arguing about the issue and let’s get moving!


To access guidelines please visiting http://www.participaction.com/ or http://www.csep.ca/

* The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and ParticipACTION, “Children four and under should move more, sit less and avoid screen”, http://files.participaction.com/physicalactivityguidelines/Early-Years-Guidelines/eyguidelines-nationalrelease-final1.pdf March 27, 2012