Is My Toddler Getting Enough Exercise?

Toddlers need a minimum of three hours exercise a day, while school-aged children should have at least an hour. That’s what guidelines from the Ministry of Health recommend.

“Provide fun activities that support physical, social, emotional and spiritual growth (at least three hours every day for toddlers and preschoolers, spread throughout the day).” Sit Less, Move More, Sleep Well – Active Play Guidelines for Under-fives, Ministry of Health.

And by ‘exercise’, the obesity prevention experts don’t mean a gentle stroll but a workout that’s moderate to vigorous in intensity and gets littlies’ heart rates up.

Getting toddlers moving

While three hours may sound a lot, Levi Waltz, CEO of Obesity Prevention Australia, a non-profit organisation committed to educating people about living healthily, says that toddlers are naturally very active.

“For toddlers there is no real difference between moderate and vigorous. The main differentiation is free or set play. The majority of their exercise is free and slowly, as they get closer to five or six years old, some more structured activity can be added.”

Like many health professionals involved in preventing obesity, Waltz warns against too much screen time for both kids and adults.

“It is very easy – and sometimes necessary – to park your child next to the TV so you can get a break, but if they are starting to develop a high screen time habit at the age of three, it will only increase (with age),” he says.

He reminds parents that little kids are great mimics so if they see mum and dad spending a lot of time in front of the TV or a computer, they will mirror that behaviour.

Why toddlers need exercise

Regular physical activity helps kids:

  • With healthy growth and development
  • Build strong bones and muscles
  • Improve balance and develop skills
  • Maintain and develop flexibility
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness
  • Reduce stress and feel more relaxed
  • Improve posture
  • Boost confidence and self-esteem

Research has shown that children who don’t get enough physical activity are at a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese.

How you can help your toddler exercise

  • Be a good role model and have a positive attitude to being active.
  • Encourage them to play in the backyard, dance to music, ride a bike or get involved in vigorous activities like running, swimming or playing sports like soccer, netball or basketball.
  • Make time to be active as a family – walk to the local park, go bike riding or take the dog for a stroll.
  • Encourage ‘active play’ by buying gifts that get kids up and moving, such as balls, bats, skipping ropes and other equipment.
  • Park some distance away from your destination – school, sport or the shops – and walk the rest of the way.
  • Make sure kids can be active after school, either through active play or organised sport.
  • If they haven’t been active previously, start slowly and build up the amount of physical activity.
  • Limit the amount of time that kids and teens spend on ‘small screen’ entertainment to no more than 2 hours a day.

This article was written by Fiona Baker for Kidspot Australia and adapted for Kidspot NZ. Sources include Obesity Prevention Australia and Healthy Kids.

Is your child getting the minimum amount of exercise they need to stay healthy?

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  1. dawnblyth 05/05/2019 at 11:45 pm

    My 4yr old does this easy. He loves the outdoors and often comes inside sweating!

  2. SarahBlair 03/05/2019 at 7:39 pm

    Toddlers are always so busy, they often run more than they walk! I loved to take my kids to the park or for walks when they were littler and we would often take them on bush walks in the weekend, they love it still! My husband often plays ‘Soccer’ after work in the back yard with the kids, its great exercise for all of them!!

  3. Shorrty4life1 15/04/2019 at 11:36 am

    I find majority of toddlers are always on the go anyway like 3hours is nothing to a toddler running a riot lol 😂. I have two children which are not toddlers and I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t meet the 3hrs that toddlers are meant to have of exercise lol. It’s all these silly electronics etc that sort of kill it for them. I don’t mind on cold days but warm days go out and enjoy it take advantage.

  4. Mands1980 12/04/2019 at 11:52 am

    Wow 3 hours seems like a lot but actually a toddler is very very busy they are always on the go unless sick. I remember mine kept going and going and would fall asleep outside while I was doing the garden in strange places.

  5. Bevik1971 11/04/2019 at 12:16 pm

    My daughter ran everywhere when she was a toddler, she hardly walked, she ran! She was always falling over too! I’m sure she got enough exercise then and she definitely does now. Always moving at school and weather permitting at home we are usually out and about. She plays basketball with her Daddy or we just go to the botanic gardens and she scooters etc

  6. Micht 10/04/2019 at 2:30 pm

    Wow!! I never knew they needed 3 hours… i am so guilty of being inactive and in turn letting my littlies be too… ive been watching my daughter at 6yrs old do sport at school and realize that i need to get her and her sister out more… this is so important… i need to learn this…

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