How Much Physical Activity is Enough for Children?
With the amount of time that children spend on electronic media, less time is spent outside in active and free play. Many health experts recommend a cap on electronic media time. But just how much physical activity is recommended?
From the American Academy of Pediatrics to the World Health Organization, experts agree that children about 6 years and older should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. The 60 minutes can accumulate over the course of the day, and in this case, more is better with few exceptions.
Two factors that may interfere with kids being active for 60 minutes or more:
With the amount of time that children spend on electronic media, less time is spent outside in active and free play. Many health experts recommend a cap on electronic media time. New guidelines are in the works for parenting in this digital age from the American Academy of Pediatrics. A recent news release suggests they will underscore the importance of parental involvement, prioritize unstructured and unplugged playtime in the youngest children, and aim for reasonable time limits that strike a healthy balance with other activities. At the same time, it's important to note that there are an increasing number of video games and apps designed to increase physical activity.
While electronic media use often steals the spotlight, inactivity through prolonged sitting or confinement in everyday childhood equipment can also have an impact. Car seats during transportation are an absolute safety requirement, but time spent in them should be limited to what is necessary. Time confined to strollers, bouncy seats, high chairs, etc. means less time for young children to be active. For all children, guidelines for sedentary behavior and "inactive" time have also been devised.
Recommendations for Children's Activity and Inactivity Levels
Infants (birth to 1 year):
Activity: Dedicate time every day to tummy time and active play.
Inactive time: Limit time spent "confined" (car seats, strollers, bouncy seats, etc) to less than 1 hour of inactivity at a time, unless sleeping.
Toddlers (1-3 years):
Activity:At least 60 minutes of moderate exercise, with some recommendations suggesting 90 minutes, or even 2+ hours per day.
Inactive time: Limit to less than 1 hour at a time, unless sleeping.
Pre-schoolers (3-5 years):
Activity:Minimum of 60 minutes, per day. Some recommendations exceed 2+ hours per day.
Inactive time: Less than 1 hour at a time, unless sleeping.
School-age (6-17 years):
Activity: At least 60 minutes of moderate exercise per day. 2+ hours is ideal.
Inactive time: No longer than 2 hours at a single time, unless sleeping.
Breaking down the guidelines for 6 – 17 year olds further, aerobic activity on most days should make up the bulk of this time. An aerobic activity uses large muscle groups – like walking, running, riding a bicycle – and strengthens the heart and lungs. Just like in adults, cardiovascular fitness improves with this type of exercise. Aerobic activities should be of moderate to vigorous intensity. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most effort possible, modest intensity activities would be at about a 5 or 6, and vigorous intensity at 7 or 8. During vigorous activity it would be difficult to carry on a conversation.
Strengthening exercises for both muscle and bone should be done about 3 days per week. All of this might be starting to sound complicated, but it isn't really as these type of strengthening activities often occur during routine play and physical activity – playing chase, climbing on playground equipment, playing basketball, gymnastics, etc. Participating in a variety of activities makes it more likely that kids will get all three types of exercise: aerobic, muscle- and bone-strengthening.
Studies show that there are direct health benefits of regular physical activity for children, and physical activity that exceeds the minimum recommendations improves these benefits even more.
Authored by: Karen Lindell, MS, RDN
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