How Much Exercise Do Kids under Age 5 Need?

Health & Wellness on 07.12.11
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 Is there such a thing as being too young for exercise?  According to official recommendations of the British government, there is not.

In an AP article, medical writer Maria Cheng reports that the British government's guidelines for children's activity urges parents of kids under five, including infants, to make sure their youngsters get plenty of exercise each day. The United Kingdom suffers from the same widespread obesity issues that we in the U.S. do; and these guidelines attempt to address those problems by keeping kids from falling into sedentary habits.

Kids under five who can walk, the guidelines say, should exercise at least 3 hours per day; and children who do not yet walk should play on their stomachs and engage in other vigorous activity like swimming with their parents.

While the U.S. government does not have comprehensive guidelines for how much exercise babies should get, the Institute of Medicine recommends that pre-school age kids get 15 minutes of exercise for every hour that they spend in daycare, and, as the Brits do, urges parents to minimize time kids spend in the stroller or in front of the TV.

Three hours of exercise per day may seem like a lot for little tykes, especially considering how much of their days are spent napping and sitting in a high chair throwing food and occasionally stuffing some in their mouths.  The British government suggests breaking the exercise up into short periods throughout the day, and that the requirements should be easily met with few specially designed sessions.

Although there is no way anyone would think my skinny little twin 2-year-old girls were in danger of becoming overweight, I did some quick figuring to see how much exercise they normally get.  On an average day, they're conscious for about 11 hours.  They spend maybe 2 hours per day in a high chair, and another 1-2 hours in a car, stroller, or parents' arms.  Then there are probably another 2-3 hours spent reading books or doing other quiet play.  So that leaves at the very least at 4 hours during which they are running, jumping, climbing, and otherwise creating mayhem (yes, even during bath time).

So 3 hours seems very reasonable.  I assume that my kids' schedule is similar to most.  And, as usual, I'm going to go ahead and blame the devil box for the British government feeling the need to tell people how much their kids should be exercising.  Because I can't think of any other sedentary activity that would keep a kid that age occupied for all those hours.

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