Physical activity guidelines for children and youth

kids running in the field  

Physical activity is important for children’s and teens’ normal growth and development.

What are the benefits of physical activity?

Regular physical activity:

  • improves movement skills ​and fitness
  • helps bones become stronger
  • builds a healthy heart
  • improves motor skills (such as hand-eye co-ordination)
  • supports thinking and problem-solving
  • helps children and teens have fun
  • improves self-confidence and mood
  • helps children learn new skills
  • helps to keep a healthy body weight
  • improves learning and attention, whether in the early stages of life or at school.

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology​ (CSEP) has produced a number of guidelines for age-appropriate activities to help children grow and develop:

  • Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years
  • Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Children (age five to 11) and Youth (age 12 to 17).

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years

  • Under age one: children should engage in supervised floor-based play several times a day, including tummy time, reaching and grasping, pushing and pulling and crawling
  • Age one to four: children should get a total of 180 minutes (three hours) of physical activity throughout the day in different environments and from a range of activities, including climbing stairs, playing outside, exploring nature, brisk walking, running and dancing
  • By age five: children should have at least 60 minutes of energetic play every day, for example hopping, skipping and bike riding

The older a child gets, the more they need energizing activity. Indeed, more daily physical activity provides even greater benefits!

Possible activities for babies and toddlers

  • Playing in safe, child-friendly spaces
  • Dancing along to music
  • Mixing with playmates of their age
  • Dressing for the outdoors and walking or biking outside

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Children and Youth

Children age five to 17 should:

  • do 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity every day
  • engage in vigorous intensity activity at least three days a week
  • do activities that strengthen muscles and bones at least three days a week.

Muscle- and bone-building activities are those that require your body to work against a force, weight or impact. Examples include gymnastics, weight lifting, dancing and jumping.

Possible moderate-intensity activities

  • Walking to school
  • Playing active games such as freeze tag at recess or during the lunch break
  • Going rollerblading or riding a bike around the neighbourhood after school
  • Building snow forts and going tobogganing on snowy days

Possible vigorous-intensity activities

  • Organizing an after school pick-up game of soccer, hockey or basketball with friends
  • Trying a new activity such as tennis, swimming, martial arts or skateboarding
  • Joining a school sports team like cross-country or signing up for a school club such as dance
  • Joining a fitness class

Possible muscle- and bone-building activities

  • Joining a school gymnastics or track and field team
  • Going for a hike with family or friends
  • Doing weight training using body weight or hand-held weights

While cycling and swimming are good forms of exercise to build muscles and improve heart health, they are not as effective as other activities for building strong bones. This is because the bones are not required to bear as much weight while the body is in a seated position or in water.

Key points

  • Regular physical activity has a number of benefits for children, including improved movement skills, stronger bones and greater concentration at school.
  • By age five, children should have at least 60 minutes of energetic play every day.
  • Children and youth age five to 17 should do 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day. They should do activities to strengthen their muscles and bones three times a week.
  • Helpful activities include rollerblading, gymnastics, soccer, hockey and cross-country running.
Greg Wells, PhD​Edite
Shawna Silver, MD, FRCPC, FAAP, PEng


Tremblay, M.S. et al (2012). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years (aged 0 – 4 years). Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2012 37(2): 345-356.​

Tremblay, M.S. et al (2011). New Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2011 36(1): 36-46.