Did you know that you don’t have to be an athlete to be active? Or that sitting all day is bad for you, even if you’re active enough the rest of the time? The Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines outline the amount and type of physical activity you need at every age and stage of life. And, for the first time, the new 24-hour Movement Guidelines for Children & Youth also include sleep. Following the guidelines will help reduce the risk of chronic disease, lead to a more focused mind, a stronger, fitter body, and all in all, a more enjoyable life.

Choose an Age Group

young girls practicing ballet

Children & Youth Age 5-17

Children in this age group are encouraged to take part in a wide variety of activities that are fun and get their bodies moving and hearts pumping. Try to mix it up with plenty of different activities that your children and teens enjoy and give them plenty of unstructured time to roam, play and explore, with you or with friends.

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Guidelines

24-Hour Movement Guidelines

For optimal health benefits, children and youth (aged 5-17 years) should achieve high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behaviour, and sufficient sleep each day.

  • A healthy 24 hours includes:
    • Sweat - Moderate to Vigorious Physical Activity
      • An accumulation of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity involving a variety of aerobic activities. Vigorous physical activities and muscle and bone strengthening activities should each be incorporated at least 3 days per week;
    • Step - Light Physical Activity
      • Several hours of a variety of structured and unstructured light physical activities;
    • Sleep 
      • Uninterrupted 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night for those aged 5–13 years and 8 to 10 hours per night for those aged 14–17 years, with consistent bed and wake-up times;
    • Sit - Sedentary Behaviour
      • No more than 2 hours per day of recreational screen time; limited sitting for extended periods.
  • Preserving sufficient sleep, trading indoor time for outdoor time, and replacing sedentary behaviours and light physical activity with additional moderate to vigorous physical activity can provide greater health benefits.

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How Does Sleep Fit In?

A healthy childhood requires a balance of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep. The health benefits that come with heart-pumping physical activity are reduced if children have poor sleep habits or engage in excessive sedentary behaviour. And well-rested children are not healthy if they are not getting enough activity. The whole day matters.

Children and youth should practice “healthy sleep hygiene,” which are a set of habits and practices that help a child sleep well.  Tips for having a healthier sleep are:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends!
  • Avoid caffeine, which can be found in coffee, soft drinks and chocolate.
  • Expose yourself to bright light in the morning as sunlight helps your biological clock reset itself each day.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillow
  • Exercise regularly during the day
  • Develop a relaxing routine before bedtime—ideas include bathing, music and reading
  • Don’t go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a heavy meal right before bed
  • Don’t have pets in your bedroom
  • Keep cell phones, computers, TVs and video games out of the bedroom

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Let’s Talk Intensity

Moderate-intensity physical activities will cause children to sweat a little and to breathe harder. On a scale of 0 to 10 (with 10 being an absolute maximum effort and 0 being completely at rest), moderate activities are about a 5 or 6. While doing moderate-intensity activity children should still be able to talk, but not sing along to their favourite song.

Vigorous-intensity physical activities will cause children to sweat and be out of breath. On a scale of 0 to 10 (with 10 being an absolute maximum effort and 0 being completely at rest), vigorous activities are about a 7 or 8. While doing vigorous activity children shouldn’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

For children who are not active, adding any amount of physical activity can provide some health benefits. For these children, it is appropriate to start with smaller amounts of physical activity and gradually increase duration, frequency and intensity as a stepping stone to meeting the guidelines.

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Moving Muscles and Building Bones

Muscle-strengthening activities are those that increase skeletal muscle strength, power, endurance and mass, such as tug of war, modified push-ups (with knees on the floor), resistance exercises using body weight or resistance bands, rope or tree climbing and swinging on playground equipment/bars.

Bone-strengthening activities produce an impact or tension force on the bones that promotes bone growth and strength. Hopping, skipping, jumping rope, running and sports such as gymnastics, basketball, volleyball and tennis are examples of bone-strengthening activities.

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What Counts as “Sedentary Behaviour”?

Sedentary behaviour includes screen time and other activities that require very little physical movement such as sitting for prolonged periods watching television, playing passive video games or playing on the computer; or using motorized transport (such as sitting on a bus or in a car). The guidelines refer to out-of-school time and do not include time spent doing schoolwork.

Parents can help their children reduce sedentary time by:

  • Turning off the television completely
  • Hiding the remote so viewers have to get up to change the channel
  • Unplugging the video and computer games (or activating parental controls to limit daily use)
  • Reducing the number of TVs in the home: take the TV out of the kitchen or bedroom
  • Creating a television watching or computer use schedule to keep track of screen time

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What are the proven benefits?

Being active for at least 60 minutes daily and limiting time spent being sedentary to less than 2 hours per day can help children:

  • Improve their health
  • Do better in school
  • Improve self-esteem and confidence
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Improve their fitness
  • Grow stronger
  • Have fun playing with friends
  • Feel happier
  • Learn new skills
Partners & Funders

The development of these guidelines would not be possible without a dedicated group of partners and funders.