Global guidelines

A number of countries have developed physical activity guidelines for children and adolescents. However, currently only four countries worldwide have developed physical activity guidelines specifically for children from birth to 5 years old. These countries include: Australia, Canada, United States of America and United Kingdom.

The USA first developed physical activity guidelines for young children in 2006. However, since then, there has been a significant increase in the number of studies that have focused on the importance of physical activity from a young age and the evidence is now stronger to suggest that regular participation in physical activity is important for a number of health benefits. The influx of more recent studies in this area has resulted in more specific physical activity recommendations for children from birth to 5 years old.

The Physical Activity Guidelines from Australia, Canada, USA and United Kingdom are summarised below. All countries have suggested a certain number of minutes or hours of physical activity that are recommended each day, however in general the overall message is ‘more is better’ and the minutes and hours suggested are a minimum.

Australia

Infants (0-1 year)

For health development in infants, physical activity – particularly supervised floor based play in safe environments – should be encouraged from birth.

Toddlers (1-3 years) and preschoolers (3-5 years)

Toddlers and pre-schoolers should be physically active every day for at least 3 hours, spread throughout the day.

Read more here.

Canada

Infants (0-1 year)

Infants should be physically active several times daily – particularly through interactive floor-based play

Toddlers (aged 1-2 years) and preschoolers (aged 3-4 years)

Toddlers and preschoolers should accumulate at least 180 min of physical activity at any intensity spread throughout the day. A variety of activities in different environments and activities that develop movement skills should be encouraged. There should be progression towards at least 60 minutes of energetic play by 5 years of age. More daily physical activity provides greater benefits.

Read more here.

USA

Infants (0-1 year)

Infants should interact with caregivers in daily physical activity that is 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. Infants’ physical activity should promote skill development in movement. Infants should be placed in an environment that meets or exceeds recommended safety standards for performing large-muscle activities. Those in charge of infants’ well-being are responsible for understanding the importance of physical activity and should promote movement skills by providing opportunities for structured and unstructured physical activity.

Toddlers (1-3 years)

Toddlers should engage in a total of at least 30 min of structured physical activity each day. Toddlers should engage in at least 60 min – and up to several hours- per day of unstructured physical activity. Toddlers should be given ample opportunities to develop movement skills that will serve as building blocks for future motor skillfulness and physical activity. Toddlers should have access to indoor and outdoor areas that meet or exceed recommended safety standards for performing large-muscle activities. Those in charge of toddlers’ well-being are responsible for understanding the importance of physical activity and promoting movement skills by providing opportunities for structured and unstructured physical activity and movement experiences.

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

Preschoolers should accumulate at least 60 min of structured physical activity each day. Preschoolers should engage in at least 60 min- and up to several hours- of unstructured physical activity each day. Preschoolers should be encouraged to develop competence in fundamental motor skills that will serve as the building blocks for future motor skillfulness and physical activity. Preschoolers should have access to indoor and outdoor areas that meet or exceed recommended safety standards for performing large-muscle activities. Caregivers and parents in charge of preschoolers’ health and well-being are responsible for understanding the importance of physical activity and for promoting movement skills by providing opportunities for structured and unstructured physical activity.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the USA has also recommended that children should be active for 25% of the time that they attend formal care (which includes settings such as kindergartens, nurseries, long day care, family day care, occasional care, preschools). This means that one quarter of the time spent in formal care should be spent in active play and physical activity.

Read more here.

United Kingdom

Infants who are not yet walking

Physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor-based play and water-based activities in safe environments.

Early years (under 5 years who are capable of walking)

Children of preschool age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 min (3 hours), spread throughout the day. Individual physical and mental capabilities should be considered when interpreting the guidelines.

Read more here.

Conversation starter

Consider the following questions and choose at least one to comment on in the comment section:

  • Do you think that young children meet the recommendations?
  • What are the main differences between the recommendations?
  • Are the recommendations realistic?
  • What recommendations would you change or modify?

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Preventing Childhood Obesity: an Early Start to Healthy Living

University of Wollongong