Physical Activity Guidelines
Regular physical activity helps keep the body and mind healthy. Activities that build strength, cardiovascular fitness, coordination and balance are beneficial to all ages. These include physical activity done at leisure, exercise, sports, active transportation, physical work and everyday chores.
Physical Activity for Children and Youth
Physical activity is important for children’s healthy growth and development. Active children have better cardiovascular fitness, stronger muscles and bones, a healthy body weight and a reduced risk for developing chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and more. They also have improved mental health and well-being, are more engaged with family and friends and do better in school. Participation in regular physical activity at a young age can result in lifelong health benefits as active kids become active adults.
Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (ages 0-4)
The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (ages 0-4) recommend that infants, toddlers and preschoolers should achieve a balance of physical activity, high-quality sedentary behaviour and sufficient sleep.
A healthy 24 hours includes:
- Infants (up to 12 months old) should be active several times a day, particularly through interactive, floor-based play.
- Toddlers (two-years-old or under) and preschoolers (three to four years) should accumulate at least 180 minutes of physical activity of any intensity, including energetic play. For preschoolers, at least 60 minutes should be energetic play.
Sleep recommendations vary depending on age. These include:
- Birth to three months: 14 to 17 hours
- Four to 11 months: 12 to 16 hours
- Toddlers - 11 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours
In addition, toddlers and preschoolers should have consistent bedtimes and wake-up times.
Sedentary time for children should be limited. This includes reducing the amount of time children are being restrained (e.g. in a stroller or high chair) to no more than one hour at a time and that toddlers and preschools should not be sitting for extended periods. Screen time is not recommended for infants. Toddlers and children sedentary screen time should be no more than one hour – less is better. Pursuits such as reading or storytelling with the caregiver are encouraged when sedentary.
Parents and caregivers play an important role in minimizing screen time to reduce the health risks associated with screen use and role modelling healthy screen use to young children.
For more information, please see:
- Canadian 24-Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (0 – 4 years)
- Canadian 24 Hour Movement Guidelines For the Early Years
- Benefits and Guidelines: Early Years Age 0 -4
- How to Minimize Screen Time and Avoid a Tech Tantrum
Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth (ages 5-17)
The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for children and Youth (ages 5 – 17 years) show what a healthy 24 hours looks like. For optimal health benefits children and youth should achieve high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behaviour and sufficient sleep each day.
A healthy 24 hour includes:
Physical Activity: SWEAT (moderate to vigorous) and STEP (light)
- Children and youth need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day and several hours of a variety of structured and unstructured light physical activity.
- Time spent indoors should be replaced with outdoor time (see Active Play). Research shows that when children are outside they move more, sit less, play longer and sleep more soundly at night.
Encourage your kids to:
- Use an active mode of transportation, such as walking, cycling, scooter or rollerblade, to get to and from school
- Play a sport such as basketball, soccer, hockey or volleyball
- Skate, ski, swim or other activities they enjoy
- Play tag, hide and seek or go to the play ground
- Explore and play in nature (e.g. climb a tree, create mud pies)
It is important that kids keep hydrated during active play, sports or on the go. Water is the best way to quench the thirst.
When active outdoors, sun protection is also beneficial to prevent skin cancer.
- Children five to 13 years old should get nine to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
- Youths 14 to 17-years-oldshould get eight to 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
Here are some tips to help children and teens get the healthy sleep they need each night.
SIT (Sedentary Behaviour)
- No more than two hours of recreational screen time per day. This includes limiting use of electronic media for entertainment purposes such as television viewing, seated electronic games and computer use.
- Limit sitting for extended periods.
For more information, please see:
Physical Activity for Adults (18 - 64)
According to the World Health Organization, physical activity can help prevent and treat chronic diseases such as:
- Heart disease and stroke
- Type 2 diabetes
- Breast and colon cancer
It can also:
- Improve mental health
- Reduce stress
- Improve sleep
- Increase energy levels
- Improve overall quality of life and well-being
Integrating physical activity into your daily life at school, work and play is a great way to achieve the recommended level of physical activity and reduce the time spent in sedentary behaviours.
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults, aged 18 to 64 years recommend that adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. These activities should make you sweat and breathe a little harder. Pick activities that you like and that fit into your lifestyle. Try a brisk walk at lunch time, join a walking or running club, walk to your destination for trips less than two kilometers, swim or play ball – be active your way!
For additional benefits, you should also do muscle and bone strengthening activities at least two days per week. Muscle strengthening activities increase skeletal muscle mass, strength and power. Examples of strengthening activities include strength and resistance training, climbing stairs and heavy gardening that require digging or shovelling. Bone strengthening activities create a force on the bones that promotes bone growth and strength. Examples of activities include running, weight lifting, dancing, playing tennis or doing aerobics.
Remember to keep hydrated when you’re active. If you’re outside sun protection is an important consideration.
For more information, please see:
Physical Activity for Older Adults
For adults aged 65 and older, physical activity helps to maintain strength and flexibility, balance and coordination, which help to reduce the risk for falls. An active lifestyle helps older adults maintain good health and independence.
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Older Adults (65 years and older) recommend that older adults accumulate at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
Add muscle and bone strengthening activities such as lifting weights, Tai Chi or yoga that uses major muscle groups at least twice a week to help improve your posture and balance.
Start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time you spend being active. Try walking, golfing, dancing or aqua aerobics.
For more information see:
Sedentary Behaviours in Adults and Older Adults
Sedentary behaviour is any waking behaviour done while in a sitting, reclining or lying posture that requires very little movement and energy expenditure.
Research shows that high sedentary behaviours impact negatively on health such as increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This is independent of other factors including body weight, diet and physical activity.
There are currently no formal guidelines for sedentary behaviours for adults and older adults. The recommendations are to:
- Reduce the amount of time spent sitting, reclining or lying down (except to sleep)
- Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible
Sedentary behaviours can occur at work, school, home, during car travel and at leisure, and can include sitting in front of screens watching television, playing video games or using the computer. To improve your health, look for opportunities to move more and sit less, such as walking breaks and walking meetings, active breaks during commercials when watching television and frequent active breaks when working on the computer.
For more information on sedentary behaviour, see:
- The Sedentary Behaviour Research Network
- Less Sitting is Better: an infographic produced by the Ontario Society of Physical Activity Promoters in Public Health