As a parent I know first-hand how active young children can be, with limitless energy and inquisitive minds the day is usually full of spontaneous physical activity. In my clinical practice, I have observed many children becoming more sedentary as they get older, usually due to the competing interests of screens and study. As a parent, it can be hard to know exactly how much physical activity should my child be doing? and most importantly, how can I help them achieve this in our busy family routine?
The World Health Organization (WHO, 2010) released guidelines for physical activity for children and young people aged 5-17 years. WHO recommended at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. For younger children 3-5 years of age, 180 minutes of physical activity of which 60 minutes is energetic play, is recommended (Australian government, 2019). These guidelines apply to all children irrespective of where they live, how old they are, their gender, and the social and financial background of their family. These recommendations also apply for children with a disability or medical condition, although the guidance of a health professional is always recommended.
Why is this important for my child?
There is lots of research informing parents about the many benefits that physical activity provides our children including developing healthy bones, muscles, nerves, and cardiovascular (heart and lung) systems. In addition to this, WHO also identifies physical activity as crucial in combatting childhood obesity and promoting a healthy weight range for children.
The benefits are not only for growing bodies with physical activity also helping children maintain a healthy mind and manage any stress or anxiety they may be experiencing. Let’s also not forget how fun physical activity can be for kids and what an excellent opportunity it can be for developing social skills and making new friends. During my career, I have had the pleasure of seeing how participation in physical activity can help children and young people of all abilities strengthen bonds with peers, siblings, family and their community. Participation in group and individual physical activities can also help children develop important life skills such as resilience, teamwork, and problem-solving.
How do I help my child achieve 60 minutes of physical activity a day?
In a busy family routine some days I can appreciate that it can be hard to find five minutes, let alone an hour to dedicate to your child’s physical activity target. Don’t worry these 60 minutes can be accumulated throughout the day. This means shorter periods of physical activity can be added together to achieve the goal of 60 minutes.
In great news for parents, physical activity does not just mean organised sport classes but can include free play, games, recreational activities, and even chores. I always thought helping with chores was good for my kids and now I have the backing of the World Health Organization! This range of activities means that a weekly sports class can account for one day’s physical activity target and on other days encouraging a combination of incidental (daily routine) or home based activities can help your child reach their physical activity target.
For example a 10 minute walk to the bus stop, a 20 minute soccer game during a school break time, 15 minutes play at the local park and 15 minutes of assisting with evening chores can all go towards achieving the 60 minute goal. As long as the activity is moderate to vigorous, which means it makes the heart beat faster, it can be included towards the total target.
All parents want the best for their child so don’t forget 60 minutes of daily physical activity is the goal and not the limit. Any moderate to vigorous physical activity longer than 60 accumulated minutes will have additional benefits for your child’s health and fitness as long as it is balanced with sufficient rest, nutrition, and a good nights sleep.
In addition to aerobic (heart and lungs working harder) activity for children and young people aged 5-17 years WHO recommends including activities that strengthen muscle and bone in your child’s physical activity target on three days of the week. This could include activities such as swinging on monkey bars, climbing trees, yoga, and carrying items such as shopping.
Take home messages for parents:
- For children 3-5 years of age aim for 180 minutes of physical activity, of which 60 minutes is energetic, per day.
- For children and young people 5-17 years of age aim for 60 minutes of moderate to vigourous physical activity per day. On 3 days of the week also include a strength based activity.
- Moderate to vigorous physical activity is activity that makes the heart beat faster.
- 60 minutes is the target and not the limit, and it can be accumulated throughout the day.
- Physical activity is not just organised sport and can include a variety of recreational and home based activities.
Look out for my next blog ‘Get up and go: help your sedentary child be more physically active!
Australian Government, Department of Health. (2019). Guidelines for healthy growth and development for children and young people (birth to 5 years). Retrieved from https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines#npa05
Australian Government, Department of Health. (2019). Guidelines for healthy growth and development for children and young people (aged 5-17 years). Retrieved from https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines#npa05
World Health Organization. (2011). Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health (5-17 year olds). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/recommendations5_17years/en/