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.