Canadian Guidelines for the Early Years

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and ParticipACTION released the first Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the early years (0-4yrs.) earlier this year. How much activity should your child be getting?

From strong bones to a healthy heart, physical activity is important for the growth and development of children. However, how much activity young children need has not always been clear. Now for the first time, physical activity and sedentary behavior guidelines for the early years are available in Canada. This age group includes infants (less than 1 year), toddlers (1-2 years) and preschoolers (3-4 years). A team of experts developed the guidelines using the best available scientific evidence. Members of the Child Health and Exercise Medicine Program at McMaster University helped lead the process.

The new Canadian guidelines suggest that preschool children:

– Get at least 3 hours of activity at any intensity spread throughout the day

– Limit prolonged sitting to mo more than 1 hour at a time

– Limit screen time to less than 1 hour per day.

Kids do not need to be continuously active for long periods. Their natural activity happens in short bursts and anything from dancing to climbing the stairs counts! The goal is to help preschoolers gradually increase the intensity of their activity. By age 5, at least 1 of the 3 hours should be spent in energetic play.

What is Energetic Play?

Children are active any time they move around. As children grow older, the intensity of that activity becomes more important. Energetic play describes high intensity activities that use up more energy. Some examples include hopping, jumping, skipping and bike riding. Organized sports like soccer practice, or swimming lessons can create opportunities for energetic play. However, sports alone are not enough and should not replace free play.

Benefits to Meeting the Guidelines

Increased physical activity levels and decreasing sedentary behavior can help preschool children: maintain a healthy body weight, build a healthy heart, develop social skills, develop self confidence, improve motor skills, improve learning and attention.

Experts agree that the less time preschool children spend sitting or engaged in screen-based activities the better. Also, the recommended 3 hours of daily physical activity at any intensity is only a minimum. The more physical activity the greater the benefits!

Tips to Help Your Child Meet the Guidelines

– Organize play dates with other children

Travel to your destination by walking or bike riding

Turn on some music and learn action songs together

Go outdoors and explore the environment

Set limits and rules about screen time.

All branches of YMCA Calgary offer run and interactive programs for preschoolers. Visit for more information and to register for winter programs. (Non member winter program registration begins December 3rd)

Source -Child Health and Exercise Medicine Program, McMaster University – April 2012.

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