Sure, it’s easy to say that children should get lots of physical activity for good health and development. But how much is the right amount?
National standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say children should have an hour or more of physical activity every day. What kind of activity qualifies depends on the age of the child. For example, children 5 and younger generally don’t need to engage in weight lifting since their bodies should receive an adequate amount of muscle strengthening through regular play, like climbing on the jungle gym or in a tree.
The CDC recommends that moderate or vigorous intensity aerobic exercise make up most of a child’s physical activity. A brisk walk is considered moderate intensity while running is vigorous. During moderate intensity activity, the heart will beat faster than normal and breathing is harder. The heart beats much faster and breathing is much harder than normal during vigorous intensity exercise. Walking to school may be moderate intensity, but a game of tag on the school yard is probably vigorous intensity.
“All children from birth to age 5 should engage daily in physical activity that promotes movement skillfulness and foundations of health-related fitness,” according to NASPE’s position statement.
The NASPE guidelines are broken down by age. For example:
Infants (birth to 12 months)
- Infants should interact with caregivers in daily physical activities that are dedicated to exploring movement and the environment.
- Caregivers should place infants in settings that encourage and stimulate movement experiences and active play for short periods of time several times a day.
Toddlers (1 to 3 years)
- Toddlers should engage in a total of at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day.
- Toddlers should engage in at least 60 minutes – and up to several hours – per day of unstructured physical activity and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, except when sleeping.
Preschoolers (3 to 5 years)
- Preschoolers should accumulate at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity each day.
- Preschoolers should engage in at least 60 minutes — and up to several hours — of unstructured physical activity each day, and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, except when sleeping.
The guidelines for every age mandate that children be given opportunities and placed in environments that allow them to develop motor skills and perform large-muscle activities. It is up to caregivers and parents to understand the importance of physical activity and provide these opportunities, the NASPE guidelines add.