How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?

by: Andrew Stewart                                                                                                   Published 08/06/13


To Kick off August, and our Physical Activity Theme I figured it would be a good idea to start by focusing on children and youth.

Unbeknownst to the majority of the population a disease epidemic of massive proportions is occurring in most first world countries and it is going almost unnoticed – it is an epidemic of obesity in the young.

Results from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey indicate that ~18% of children ages 2 to 17 in Canada are overweight with an additional 8% of these individuals being obese. This is not normal and is a fairly recent and startling development.

While to some “weight” is a controversial subject, from medical standpoint obesity is clearly a disease that threatens the long term survival of an individual. It is good idea to try to nip it in the bud. With a few rare exceptions an overweight child is the result of the environment they are raised in. There are some genetic predispositions but through physical activity and a balanced diet they can be suppressed for a lifetime.

To get this week started I would like to introduce you to the currently accepted physical activity guidelines for children (As recommended by The Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists). As the week progresses I will then provide you with information on why they are important and some good ways of getting kids moving.

The following recommendations are taken from the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists (CSEP) for levels of both sedentary and non-sedentary activities in children which we at the lab (generally) trust to be accurate.

CSEP recommends that children (ages 5-11) and youth (ages 12-17) should limit recreational screen time to no more than two hours per day. On top of this in an official press release they stated that “children and youth should also limit sedentary transport, prolonged sitting and time spent indoors throughout the day”.

Secondly, CSEP also indicates that for health benefits children and youth should partake in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity daily (moderate to vigorous activity means that Kids need to be getting their hearts and lungs working hard).

dandelion_____by_mechtaniyaHow often have you driven by a children’s soccer game to see half of the team sitting on the field picking the dandelions instead of chasing the ball? While there is nothing wrong with this widely practiced form of amateur horticulture; to get that 60 minutes a day we need to make sure that every once in a while they engage with the game and run as hard as they can after that ball!

It is also important to take into account that the recommendation is for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity – not 60 minutes total of physical activity. With a maximum of 2 hours of sedentary activity, even with time spent at school and completing ever growing piles of homework children and youth need to be filling up their free time with as many active pursuits as possible.

Now that you know how much physical activity a child needs, how can we make sure they get it? Look for my next posts as I attempt to find some answers for this question. In the following weeks look forward to articles by my colleagues who will try to figure out how you can fit in the physical activity you need as well as a guest post on the challenges which face cancer patients who are attempting to remain active while battling disease.


Starky, S. (2005). The Obesity Epidemic In Canada. Library of Parliament.

Teed, L. (2011). New Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines Released: Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists.

Teed, L., & Pacheco, M. (2011). Cutting down on sitting down: the world’s first evidence-based sedentary behaviour guidelines released: Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists.

Image: “The Athlete” by Bill Fleming (©2010-2013)

Image: “Dandelion” by mechtaniya (©2010-2013)


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