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Fitness and family health

October 06, 2014

How much exercise do my kids need?

You know exercise is good for your kids, and you suspect they need to get more. But how much is enough, and what can you do to make sure they get it?

When we were kids, most of us got plenty of exercise. We walked to school and played active games at recess and lunch, and we played outdoors before and after dinner, and all weekend long. The weather rarely kept us indoors: If it rained in spring, summer or fall, we put on swimsuits or raincoats, and in winter, we only went indoors to warm up or fetch a dry pair of mittens. Parents were generally more active, too, often driving less and walking or cycling more, playing outdoors with their children, and taking care of household chores such as cutting the grass and shovelling snow themselves instead of outsourcing these tasks as many do today.

Nowadays, we’re besieged with information about obesity, inactivity, over-programmed children, the importance of being active role models for our children, the need to limit screen time, ways to advocate for more physical activity at schools, and more. In fact, there’s so much information in circulation that many parents struggle to sort fact from fiction and right from wrong.

If you’re wondering how much daily physical activity your kids need to reap the maximum health benefits, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology are a good place to start. Generally speaking, for children from five to 17, they recommend a minimum of 60 minutes of heart-pumping activity every day. Here’s a breakdown by age group:

Infants, toddlers and preschoolers

Infants (less than a year old) should be physically active several times each day, especially by way of interactive, floor-based play.

Toddlers (ages one to two) and preschoolers (ages three to four) should get at least 180 minutes of physical activity at any intensity each day, progressing to at least an hour of high-energy play by the age of five.

Children age five to 11

Remember the “power of an hour!” Children within this age range should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity or active play daily. It does not need to happen all at once — two, three, or several “mini” periods of activity and play all count towards the hour they need each day. Aim for heart-pumping activities every day, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone (like skipping to school or jumping rope) at least three times a week. Remember that when it comes to physical activity, more is better!

Tweens and teens age 12 to 17

Youth within this age range should participate in at least 60 minutes of heart-pumping activity or active play every day. They should also enjoy activities that strengthen muscle and bone (such as skipping, running, basketball, tennis) at least three times a week.

Happily, helping our children to be more active is easy:

  • Choose active transportation — encourage your kids to walk or bike to school.
  • Encourage children to join sports teams and recreational activities at school — things like jump rope and dance clubs and soccer and volleyball teams.
  • Swimming is a life skill. Insist that your kids take lessons year-round until they are competent swimmers.
  • Pack balls and jump ropes into school backpacks to encourage play with friends at recess and lunch.
  • Set aside time every day to be active as a family — even an after-dinner dog walk counts!
  • Limit screen time and encourage kids to choose active play instead — particularly during the after-school period of 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.
  • Be an active role model for your kids. Active parents tend to have more active kids.

According to ParticipACTION, active kids are happier, healthier, more confident and smarter. So let’s give our kids the gift of an active childhood to help them find the fun in physical activity while creating healthy habits for life!

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