Physical activity: Guidelines for children and teens

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead

Learn about the guidelines for daily physical activity, sleep and screen time for babies, children and teens.

Key points

  • Regular physical activity has a number of benefits for children, including improved movement skills, stronger bones and greater concentration at school.
  • Children and youth aged 5 to 17 years should do 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day. They should also do activities to strengthen their muscles and bones at least three times a week.
  • Helpful activities include playing tag, biking, rollerblading, gymnastics, soccer, swimming or hockey.

Physical activity has a range of benefits for your child’s physical, mental and social health. Maintaining regular physical activity during stressful times may be more difficult.

How much physical activity does my child need?

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) provides specific physical activity guidelines based on age.

These guidelines encourage children and youth to sweat, step, sleep, and sit the right amounts each day for optimal health.

Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (0-4 Years)

The table below summarizes the amount and types of activity that are suitable during the first few years of your child’s life.

Sweat and StepSleepSit
Infants (younger than 1 year)
30 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day while awake

14 to 17 hours for those aged 0-3 months

12 to 16 hours of good quality sleep for those aged 4-11 monnths

Screen time is not recommended
Toddlers (1-2 years)
180 minutes of any intensity physical — more is better.11-14 hours of good-quality sleep.

For those younger than 2 years, sedentary screen time is not recommended.

For those aged 2 years, sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour — less is better.

Preschoolers (3-4 years)
180 minutes of physical activity per day, of which at least 60 minutes is energetic play — more is better.10-13 hours of good quality sleepScreen time should be no omre than 1 hour — less is better.

True of false? Sixty minutes of being outdoors is enough physical activity for my child.


For more videos from SickKids experts in collaboration with Youngster, visit Youngster on YouTube.

Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth (age 5 to 17 years)

These guidelines cover all types of movement as well as rest and relaxation throughout the day, including nighttime. A 24-hour day is divided into the four sections:

  • ​At least 60 minutes (1 hour) of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity every day.
  • Vigorous intensity and bone and muscle strengthening activity at least three days a week
  • Several hours of structured and unstructured light intensity activities such as playing, walking to or from school, doing chores
  • ​No more than 2 hours of recreational screen time a day

How can I tell if my child’s activities are moderate or vigorous intensity?

Moderate-intensity activities also make children sweat and breathe a little harder, but they can still talk while they move their bodies. Examples include rollerblading, riding a bike around the neighbourhood after school and moderate level yoga.

Vigorous-intensity activities make children sweat and feel “out of breath”, leaving them able to speak only a few words between breaths. Examples include hip-hop dancing and running, biking or swimming at a fast pace.

What types of activities strengthen muscles and bones?

Activities that strengthen muscles and bones force the body to bear weight. They include going for a hike with family or friends, jumping rope, playing tennis or basketball or doing weight training with body weight or hand-held weights.

Cycling and swimming are good for building muscles and improving heart health, but 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.

How can I encourage my child to be more active?

Often there is a gap between what we know we should do and actually doing it. As a parent, you may find it difficult to get your child to increase their daily physical activity, especially if they are not used to it, are carrying extra weight, are out of shape or are feeling down. However, there are a number of tips that can help.

Make it a habit

It is important to instil physical activity as a regular part of your child's routine from an early age. If physical activity is valued by your child, it is more likely to become a habit and be carried on throughout the years. As well, your child will also be more to self-motivate to get active, even when they may not feel like it.

Be a healthy role model

Be a good role model. Not only will this benefit your family by showing them how you can fit daily physical activity into your life in various ways, but it benefits you as well. In addition, regular physical activity will create more opportunities for you to be active and have fun with your children.

Try active transportation

Using your own body to get from one destination to another – also known as active transportation – is a great way for kids to sneak in some additional minutes of physical activity throughout the day. Whether your child walks to wheels to school or bikes to a friend’s house, every bit of movement counts.

Set limits on screen time

Set limits on your child’s recreational screen time (watching TV, playing video games, using social media with friends). Children aged two and over should have no more than one to two hours of recreational screen time a day. Children under age two should not have any screen time.

Adopt screen-free playtimes when interacting with your young children.

Choose an activity your child enjoys

If your child does not have a routine to fall back on, you can help them find something that they really enjoy doing and letting them take gradual steps from there. Getting outside, going for a swim or walking, running or bike riding with friends or family are all great ways to start them off. Other options are doing a yoga class (many are available online to follow at home), playing soccer and dancing.

Even if your child is part of an organized sport a few times a week, encourage them to move on their off days by walking or cycling to a friend’s house, raking leaves, skipping rope or playing in a neighbourhood park.

A good idea when choosing an activity is for you and your child to consider:

  • your child’s interests
  • the availability and affordability of options where you live.

Your child’s interests

Not every child has plans to be the team captain or star player. If your child prefers to do physical activity on their own, they may be interested in running, biking, dancing or swimming. If they enjoy being in a team environment where they can make new friends and be part of a community, then team-based activities such as basketball, volleyball or soccer might be a better option.

Availability and affordability of options

The costs of some physical activities can quickly add up when you take account uniforms, equipment, lessons and travel to and from practices or competitions. For more cost-effective options, check out public programs available through your city’s or town’s recreation centres, availability of sport subsidy programs, or intermural activities offered through your child’s school. Sporting goods stores, like Play it Again Sports, that offer almost new or gently used sports equipment are also worth a look for discounted items.

Safety first

Consider encouraging your child to walk to school with other nearby children by forming a walking club with neighbours. Also make sure that your child or teen is wearing protective equipment for activities such as cycling, skating, skateboarding, soccer and other physical activities.

Socially-distanced activities

There are many ways to stay active while staying physically and socially distanced from others. If your children are playing with others from outside your household, they should play outside whenever possible. Try biking, skiing, swimming, rollerblading, tennis, badminton, frisbee and dance instead of team or contact sports.

As a family, try to spend time outdoors enjoying activities tailored to the season and weather.

Engaging in safe physical activity, appropriate levels of screen use and social activities while following public health guidelines are key to helping your child successfully grow and develop, all while laying the groundwork for healthy habits for the future.

How to set your child up with a positive attitude towards physical activity

There is always a certain amount of fear and discomfort when trying something new. It helps to remind your child that they do not need to be the best or fastest, but instead should do their best to enjoy and learn from their chosen activity.

Just like adults, the more a child enjoys the activity, the more likely they are to want to continue. And when it comes to a behaviour like physical activity, we want children to keep coming back for more!

If your child tries an activity and does not like it, that’s ok! Try something new. Benefits can only be gained from physical activity if a child likes it enough to do it regularly. It is also a good idea to encourage your child to try different activities throughout the year to have some variety and use their body in different ways.


Visit Meant2Prevent to find more resources about the importance of physical activity.

Visit our teen mental health website for information on the importance of physical activity for your mental health: Physical activity and mental health: Overview.

Last updated: May 22nd 2020