How to keep your child active

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Learn how to help your child stay active and provide them with the support they need to stay motivated.

Key points

  • Find an activity that your child enjoys. This is the best source of motivation!
  • Get the family involved. If it is an activity that the family can do (e.g. going for walks), everyone can keep each other motivated.
  • Plan ahead to make sure your child knows the daily physical activities. Create a weekly plan to allot time to the activities.

Our busy life schedule has made it difficult to manage many aspects of our lives, especially physical activity levels. This can also be seen in children, and many of them have become more sedentary. These changes in activity levels can be a risk to your child’s health and can also have a negative impact on their sleep and mental health. It is important that your child stays active during their free time. Physical activity is an important part of growth and has many health-related benefits.

How active should your child be?

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines say that children and youth aged 5 to 17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day. This should include doing aerobic activities at least three days a week and activities that strengthen muscles and bones at least three days a week.

Exercise snacking

One way you can incorporate activity into your child’s day is with the idea of "exercise snacking". You do this by planning multiple shorter activities, or exercise snacks, for your child that are spread throughout the day. These exercise snacks can add up to meet the goal of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. This approach also helps to break up the amount of time your child spends sitting.

How to build your best day

It may feel like a challenge to get your child and family started on a physical activity routine but it can be helpful to create a plan! Using a plan helps to keep your child motivated and to make sure they get 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day. Creating a plan for the week ahead can be a good visual reminder and make the physical activity goals more attainable and realistic. Check out the Build Your Best Day resource for a fun way of developing a day that meets the physical activity recommendations (http://buildyourbestday.participaction.com/en-ca/).

Doctors, physiotherapists and exercise physiologists use a simple formula called the FITT principle to prescribe exercise. The FITT principle stands for:

  • Frequency: How many days per week you are physically active?
  • Intensity: How much effort does your activity take (low, moderate or high)?
  • Time: How long are you active each day?
  • Type: What type of activity are you doing (strength, yoga, dance, skating, etc.)?

The FIIT principle can act as a guide to help you develop a physical activity plan that is specific for you and your child. You can use each of the components of FIIT as outlined below to help you set realistic goals for your child.

  • Start with a smaller goal such as having your child be active three days a week and then increase the number of active days over time.
  • Start with low-intensity activities if that is best for your child and help them build up their tolerance. It will be more enjoyable for your child to go at a pace they can keep up with.
  • Get your child exercising for 30 minutes a day at the start, half the recommended amount of activity and build from there.
  • Remember that your child does not have to do all the activity at one time. For example, it can be two activities of 15 minutes each.

As important as each of the components of the FIIT principle are, the most important thing is that your child just gets moving every day. Here are some examples of lower and higher-intensity activities that your child could do.

Lower intensity

  • Going for walks
  • Yoga
  • Low-intensity cycling
  • Low-intensity/low-impact fitness videos
  • Walking on a treadmill

Higher intensity

  • Sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball, etc.)
  • Dancing
  • Fitness videos
  • Jogging/running
  • Running around with friends outside

Use this time to try something new

Your child’s preferred activities might not be available at the moment, but you can still promote active time. Your child can use equipment that is available at home (e.g., treadmill, elliptical, bicycle) or a fun fitness video on YouTube. YouTube has a variety of videos for dancing, full body exercises, strengthening and yoga. You may want to expose your child to a variety of activities to see which they prefer. Finding an activity that your child likes will be the most important factor in keeping your child active and motivated to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Let’s get started!

  • Below is a list of activities. Suggest these to your child and find what sparks their interest.
  • Create a weekly plan to visually lay out what activities to do and when to do them by organizing each day.
  • Participate in the activities with your child when possible.
  • Take advantage of weekends to plan family activities involving movement.
  • Set reminders to get up and move around every hour.
  • Set mini goals with your child. This could range from doing 10 minutes of any activity three times per day to accumulating 30 minutes of movement each day.
  • If your child owns an activity tracking device, they can track their daily steps. Setting a step count goal can be a great way to create mini-challenges.
    • These devices can also track amounts of exercise and give reminders to move.
  • Encourage, encourage, encourage!!!
  • Positively reinforce any effort your child makes to be active.

Examples of activities

Outdoor activities

  • Walking
  • Skating
  • Cycling
  • Tobogganing
  • Skiing/snowboarding
  • Running around/playing outside

Indoor activities

  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Online fitness videos
  • Using any at-home equipment (free weights, resistance bands, treadmill, etc.)
  • Children fitness videos

Online platforms for children:

Online platforms for adolescents:

Additional benefits of physical activity

Sleep

Physical activity is not only important for reducing the amount of time your child is inactive but it will also help improve their sleep quality. Having an increased level of physical activity throughout the day can contribute to a better sleep schedule and quality of sleep.

Here are some suggestions to help your child get a good night’s sleep:

  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine. Your child should go to bed at about the same time each night. You should keep their room cool, dark and quiet but open the curtains or turn on the lights as soon as they get up in the morning.
  • Your child should always fall asleep in their bed. They should use their bed for sleeping only. Your child should avoid doing homework, using a smartphone or tablet, or playing video games while in bed. They should turn off screens at least 30 minutes before the time they want to sleep. Children aged 14 to 17 should be in their beds with the lights out for 8 to 10 hours every night. Children aged 5 to 13 should be in their beds with the lights out for 9 to 11 hours every night.
  • Napping during the day can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. If your child wants to nap, they keep it short (less than 30 minutes). Definitely do not nap after dinner.
  • Get exercise every day.
  • Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, pop, energy drinks), especially after mid-afternoon.
  • On weekends, no matter how late your child goes to bed, they should get up within 2 to 4 hours of their usual wake-up time. This is especially important if they have trouble falling asleep on Sunday nights.
  • Make sure your child is not trying to do too much. Make sure your child still has time to have fun and to get enough sleep. If your child is having trouble sleeping because they have too much on their mind, suggest they keep a diary or a to-do list. If they write things down before sleep, they may feel less worried or stressed.

Mental well-being

Keeping a healthy mind by doing physical activities, as well as mindfulness, can help your child cope with general life stressors. Below is a list of mindful resources to help with coping.

Last updated: September 8th 2022