Here's how much activity your preschooler should have

We so often talk about the inactivity crisis that sometimes we forget to talk about what Canadians are doing well. Our preschoolers and parents deserve a mention because 70% of young Canadian children (i.e., all those tiny tots who are 1-4 years old) are currently meeting their recommended physical activity guidelines!1 Hooray!

Guidelines for this age group are 180 minutes, or 3 hours of physical activity ofany intensity spread throughout the day.2 This includes all the squiggling, squirming, and moving around that you normally see in young children. It all counts, and there are tons of health benefits. Getting active early on sets kids up for success later in life. Meeting activity guidelines when they’re young also means they are more likely to have a healthy body weight, improved motor skills, improved learning, and improved mental health later in life!3 Talk about setting your child up for success!

However, even though our youngest children are leading the way in physical activity, they are falling way behind in meeting their sedentary behaviour guidelines. Only 15% of children 3-4 years old are meeting guidelines, and are spending about 7.5 hours being sedentary.1

The overarching message of the sedentary behaviour guidelines for early years is to minimize time spent being sedentary throughout the day.4 Specifically, they recommend that those under 2 years old don’t get any screen time and that children aged 3-4 years get less than 1 hour of screen time per day. Like meeting physical activity guidelines, meeting sedentary behaviour guidelines is associated with a ton of health benefits – like healthier body weights, better developed social skills, improved learning and attention, and improved language skills.5

Only 15% of children 3-4 years old are meeting guidelines

All that being said, I know what you’re thinking – 1 hour of screen time?! That isn’t even long enough to keep your son or daughter entertained while you unpack groceries, let alone make dinner or do the laundry! It’s hard, especially when tablets and smartphones make for such an easy distraction.

Here’s what you can do to reduce sedentary for your preschoolers:

  • Try limiting the number of screens you have in your house, or keeping them out of sight when children are around.
  • Remember children model your behaviour, so take time to unplug yourself and avoid using your phone, computer, or tablet around your child.

We are also starting to understand that not all sedentary behaviours are the same. Playing quietly, reading, colouring, or building are thought to increase learning and academic achievement and motor skill development so bring back the Mega Bloks and get building!


  1. ParticipACTION. The Biggest Risk Is Keeping Our Kids Indoors. The 2015 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto, Ontario; 2015.
  2. Tremblay MS, LeBlanc AG, Carson V, et al. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years (aged 0–4 years). Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012;37(2):345-356. doi:10.1139/h2012-018.
  3. Timmons BW, LeBlanc AG, Carson V, et al. Systematic review of physical activity and health in the early years (aged 0–4 years). Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012;37(4):773-792. doi:10.1139/h2012-070.
  4. Tremblay MS, LeBlanc AG, Carson V, et al. Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years (aged 0-4 years). Appl Physiol Nutr Metab Physiol Appliquée Nutr Métabolisme. 2012;37(2):370-391. doi:10.1139/h2012-019.
  5. LeBlanc AG, Spence JC, Carson V, et al. Systematic review of sedentary behaviour and health indicators in the early years (aged 0-4 years). Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012;37(4):753-772. doi:10.1139/h2012-063.