Health Canada – in conjunction with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) - has developed physical activity guidelines for all age groups:
For Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Children 0 – 4 click here
Learn more about the guidelines for this youngest age group
- Structured physical activity includes activities that you direct children to do or participate in with them, such as walking, or playing a game. It also includes group play opportunities, such as organized recreational games.
- Unstructured physical activity is more often thought of as “play”. Children are supervised but are free to play on their own or with other children.
Young children should have at least one hour a day of structured physical activity (particularly for children three and older). They should also have at least one hour a day of unstructured physical activity and limited sedentary time, whether at home or in a daycare program. Physical activity should be spread throughout the day rather than in one long session. Sporadic sessions of activity interspersed with periods of rest are suggested. This pattern of activity also protects against children engaging in prolonged periods of sedentary behaviour by prompting regular breaks from sitting or lying down.
For this age group, the amount of physical activity is more important than the intensity. Activities for young children should be fun and non-competitive. Children should be encouraged to play outside because they tend to be more active outdoors. Basic movement skills, such as running, climbing, throwing, catching and kicking do not just happen as a child gets older. Children must learn and practice these skills, so repetition is key. The social and physical environments in which activity is most likely to occur (such as the family home, childcare and leisure facilities) should be stimulating, fun and safe. Young children also need the freedom to create their own opportunities for active play. They should be encouraged to lead their own activities, direct their own play and engage in imaginative play. This will foster independence and experimentation as well as appropriate exploration in a safe and supervised environment.
For Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Children 5 – 11 click here.
For Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Youth 12 – 17 click here.
What is the role of guidelines for weight management?
Physical activity is the most variable component of daily energy expenditure and therefore plays an important role in weight management. Children and young people who are overweight or obese will gain significant heath benefits form being physically active at the recommended level, even if the weight status stays unchanged. We ought to remember, that weight status is a result of the balance between energy intake and energy expenditure at the individual level. This makes it difficult to determine the exact amount of activity required for healthy weight maintenance at a population level. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, additional physical activity beyond the 60 minutes is recommended, and a reduction in calorie intake may be required. Children and young people of any weight should first aim to achieve and sustain the recommended level of daily activity.
What’s the intensity?
It is important to emphasize that the intensity of physical activity should be above and beyond that experienced during daily living. This means that light activity such as moving around the house, walking slowly to school or while shopping, or engaging in simple daily chores do not contribute towards the 60 minutes of physical activity recommended. However, the reduction in sedentary time that results from an increase in light physical activity should increase total energy expenditure. For example, children and young people may engage in light activity and reduce sitting and lying time by playing active computer games or engaging in activities that involve moving in and around the home, classroom or community.
It is also important to realize that sedentary behaviour and vigorous physical activity can co-exist, as children and young people may engage frequently in activities of vigorous intensity, but may also spend extended time sitting, for example in front of a screen. Children and young people should participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age and stage of development. Patterns of activity in children commonly involve a mixture of running, jumping, climbing, hopping and skipping activities, interspersed with short periods of rest. These brief periods of activity can also involve the development of object-control (catching, throwing, striking, kicking) and stability (balancing) movement skills, as well as counting towards the bone and muscle strengthening recommendations. These patterns are characterized by high intensity activity interspersed with short periods of moderate and light activity or standing. These activities of varying intensity can cumulatively contribute towards the recommended 60 minutes a day if they are at least 10 minutes in duration.