Exercise for Children: Kids Under 6 Need 3 Hours of Exercise Daily

exercise for children

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines clear recommendations for adults when it comes to getting exercise. They recommend 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per week, as well as engaging in muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days per week. And these are just the basics – the CDC recommends five hours of physical activity each week for even more health benefits.

If you think it’s difficult to meet those goals, however, just be thankful you’re not a child. According to guidelines from three different countries, exercise for children under the age of 6 should amount to at least three hours every day. This activity should be spread out throughout the day, according to the researchers behind the guidelines. Getting this much exercise might help prevent childhood obesity.

Three National Organizations Agree

The guidelines come courtesy of three national organizations. The Department of Health and Aging in Australia recommended at least three hours of daily exercise for preschoolers and toddlers in 2010. The Chief Medical Officers in the U.K. and the U.S. Institute of Medicine made similar recommendations in 2011. Although the phrasing is different from one organization to the next, the bottom line is the same: children under 6 years old should get three hours of exercise, every single day.

In a commentary published online in the medical journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Jennifer O’Neill and Russell Pate of the University of South Carolina wrote that the guidelines posed by the three nations are extremely similar despite being based on independent research.

The State of Childhood Obesity

Since 1970, obesity rates among U.S. children between the ages of 2 and 5 have sharply increased. As of 2012, nearly 27% of children in this age range are either overweight or obese. However, researchers have yet to determine exactly how much exercise for children is appropriate to prevent obesity. In the future, studies may look to find a link between childhood physical activity and how body fat develops, for example.

According to recent studies, children under the age of 6 usually engage in physical activity sporadically, and the vast majority of this activity is light to moderate as opposed to vigorous. These studies were conducted with the help of accelerometers, devices worn on the wrist to detect and track physical activity.

Existing Exercise Guidelines

The U.S. government released its first guidelines for physical exercise in 2008. According to these guidelines, children aged 6 to 17 should receive 60 minutes of exercise every day. In addition, adults should get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. However, the guideline didn’t list any specifics for children younger than age 6. Older guidelines from non-governmental organizations recommended a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise for children between the ages of 3 and 5, though that has now changed.

The Bottom Line

According to guidelines from the U.S., U.K. and Australia, children under the age of 6 should get at least 3 hours of physical activity every single day. If more parents required their children to follow these guidelines, childhood obesity would likely decrease.

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