The benefits of physical activity
Physical activity can be a lifesaver – literally.
Children of all ages benefit from physical activity. Physical activity strengthens their hearts and helps kids and teens maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure, which may lower their risk of developing heart disease and stroke as they age. Get them to start early! Active kids are more likely to become fit adults.
Children are naturally energetic, but without encouragement they can become inactive. These days, children spend more and more time sitting – in class, on a school bus, using the computer, playing video games or watching TV. As a result, more than half of Canadian children aren’t active enough for optimal health and development.
These fun and engaging Hands Up videos may help your children understand the importance of physical and health literacy.
How much physical activity do kids need?
Children of all ages benefit from physical activity. The type and amount of activity they need changes as they grow.
For healthy growth and development, infants and preschoolers should be active several times during the day by:
reaching for toys during tummy time on the floor
- climbing stairs
This will help them increase their fitness, have fun, feel happy, develop self-confidence and improve their learning and attention.
Children and teens should accumulate 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. They should engage in vigorous-intensity activities at least three days per week.
- Moderate-intensity aerobic activity makes you breathe harder and your heart beat faster. You should be able to talk, but not sing. These activities include walking quickly, skating, bike riding and skateboarding.
- Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity will increase your heart rate even more and you will not be able to say more than a few words without catching a breath. Examples are running, basketball, soccer and cross-country skiing.
Kids should also do activities that strengthen their muscles and bones at least three days per week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities like push-ups and sit-ups, lifting weights, climbing stairs and riding a bike build up your muscles
- In bone-strengthening activities, your muscles push and pull against your bones, helping make them stronger. Examples include running, walking, yoga and jumping rope.
Reduce sitting time
Children 5 to 17 years of age need to reduce the time they spend sitting every day. Try cutting down on recreational screen time in front of TVs and computers to no more than two hours a day. And try reducing the time your kids sit in cars or on school buses as well as limiting the time they spend sitting or being indoors for extended periods. It’s not a matter of trying to fit something else into their busy day. Instead, encourage your children to swap some inactive time in front of a computer or sitting on a bus with other activities such as dancing to music or walking to school.
Tips to get physically active
More ideas to boost your physical activity.
Children are naturally energetic, but without encouragement, they can become inactive.
Many children spend more and more time sitting – in class, on a school bus, using the computer, playing video games or watching TV. As a result, more than half of Canadian children aren’t active enough for optimal health and development.
Be a good role model
It’s up to you as a parent to keep your kids active. So try being a good role model. If your children see you make physical activity a priority, they will take note. Research shows that active parents have active children. Here are some ways you can get them moving:
- Encourage your kids to walk, bike, rollerblade or skateboard to school.
- Enroll them in fitness activities at your local community centre such as badminton, basketball or swimming.
- Get the neighbours together for a game of pick-up hockey or baseball on the weekends.
Unstructured activities are good for kids
Organized sports can be valuable, but they’re not the only solution. Not all children and teens like competition. As well, unorganized sport and unstructured activity have been shown to be especially beneficial in preventing children from becoming overweight, perhaps because the emphasis is not on winning but on fun.
Here are some ideas for unstructured fun:
- a game of tag
- pick-up games of ice or ball hockey
- skipping rope
- shovelling snow
Family activities to try:
- hike in a local park or conservation area
- swim at a local community centre pool
- play frisbee, baseball or soccer in the backyard
- get involved in activities at the local community centre
One day at a time
Your kids don’t have to make the change all at once. They may start by being active 10 minutes a day, increasing the time each week until daily activity becomes part of their healthy lifestyle. Children are naturally active so they may be doing some light or moderate activity already. Try increasing active periods by 10 minutes and reducing screen time by 10 minutes every few days to make being active a part of their daily routine.
Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines
Did you know ... 60 minutes or more a day is all it takes
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that school-aged children and youth get active for at least 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity.
Based on the most recent scientific evidence, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines explain the amount and types of physical activity that we need to experience positive changes to our health. Specifically, guidelines have been developed to identify physical activity requirements for children (5-11 years) and youth (12-17 years).
Children should also decrease the time they spend on sedentary activities such as watching TV, playing computer games and surfing the Internet.
The groundbreaking 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth for children (5-11 years) and youth (12-17 years) counsel Canadians on recommended limits to recreational screen time and other sedentary behaviour. The guidelines also help to outline the link between limiting sedentary behaviour and significant health benefits.
There are also guidelines for the early years and older teens.
Schools and physical activity