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Physical Activity Guidelines For Young Children

Being physically active every day is important for the healthy growth and development of babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education’s guidelines recommend :

Thus, preschool-aged children should have at least two hours of exercise a day, half in structured physical activity and the remainder in unstructured, free-play settings. Children aged five to twelve should have at least sixty minutes of daily exercise.

To help meet the daily physical activity recommendations for preschoolers, experts recommend incorporating planned physical activity into the daily preschool schedule. Structured activity sessions should be short, about fifteen to twenty minutes, and should emphasize a wide variety of different movements.


Babies should be encouraged to be active throughout the day, every day. Before your baby begins to crawl, encourage them to be physically active by reaching and grasping, pulling and pushing, moving their head, body and limbs during daily routines, and during supervised floor play, including tummy time. Once babies can move around, encourage them to be as active as possible in a safe, supervised and nurturing play environment.


Children who can walk on their own should be physically active every day for at least 180 minutes (three hours). This should be spread throughout the day, indoors or outside. The 180 minutes can include light activity such as standing up, moving around, rolling and playing, as well as more energetic activity like skipping, hopping, running and jumping. Active play, such as using a climbing frame, riding a bike, playing in water, chasing games and ball games, is the best way for this age group to get moving.

All children aged under five

Children under five should not be inactive for long periods, except when they’re asleep. Watching TV, travelling by car, bus or train, or being strapped into a buggy for long periods are not good for a child’s health and development. There’s growing evidence that such behaviour can increase their risk of poor health.

All children under five who are overweight can improve their health by meeting the activity guidelines, even if their weight doesn’t change. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, they may need to do additional activity and make dietary changes.

Energetic activities suitable for most children who can walk on their own include:
  • Active play (such as hide and seek and stuck in the mud)
  • Running around
  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Riding a bike
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Climbing
  • Skipping rope
  • Gymnastics

Energetic activity for children will make kids “huff and puff” and can include organised activities, such as dance and gymnastics. Any sort of active play will usually include bursts of energetic activity.


Using the accelerometer method of measurement over an extended period of time can be reliably used to observe moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) patterns in children.

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