exercises for children

Understanding the activity guidelines for children under five

As a parent, there’s a lot of information out there about what’s “right” for your child. It can be hard to sort fact from fiction, and everyone seems to have an opinion!

Now, the World Health Organisation has released new guidelines for physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under 5 years of age. They highlight the fact that children should spend less time sitting and watching screens, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy.

“Achieving health for all means doing what is best for health right from the beginning of people’s lives,” says WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains.”

So how much physical activity is right for your little ones? Let’s break down the exercise guidelines for children:

exercises for children

Infants (less than 1 year) should

• Be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play; more is better. For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake.

• Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g. prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back). Screen time is not recommended.

• Have 14–17h (0–3 months of age) or 12–16h (4–11 months of age) of good quality sleep, including naps.

Children 1-2 years of age should:

• Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.

• Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back) or sit for extended periods of time. For 1-year-olds, sedentary screen time (such as watching TV or videos, playing computer games) is not recommended. For those aged 2 years, sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.

• Have 11-14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

Children 3-4 years of age should:

• Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least 60 minutes is moderate- to vigorous intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better.

• Not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time. Sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour; less is better. When sedentary, engaging in reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged.

• Have 10–13h of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

Where can you get advice?

To read more about the guidelines, visit the World Health Organisation’s website. If you aren’t sure what types of physical activity your child should be doing or your child experiences health concerns, chat to your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist. They can help guide you as to what movement are safe and effective for each stage of life.

There’s over 5000 Exercise Physiologists in Australia… To find one near you, click here.