Parents frequently hear that their children need 60 minutes of physical activity every day. It’s the globally-accepted standard according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and child health and exercise physiology experts. The question for many parents: What qualifies as suitable physical activity?
Does walking to school count? How about raking leaves? Or loading the dryer with laundry?
The first thing to understand about the 60-minute guideline: It refers to 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, commonly abbreviated as MVPA.
Moderate activity requires a moderate amount of effort and raises your heart rate to a degree that you notice it, but your breathing stays more or less steady. Vigorous activity demands a large amount of effort that raises your heart rate considerably and forces you to breathe intensely.
By that definition, a lot of things may qualify as physical activity—everything from free play and sports participation to household chores and active transportation.
Depending on a child’s level of fitness, walking to school may be moderate activity, but for most kids it’s light activity. Riding a bike to school, especially if there are hills to climb, probably represents moderate activity. But again, it depends on the level of fitness of the child and how fast and hard they decide to pedal.
Ways to fill 60 minutes
As a parent, you know your child best. Keeping in mind their relative fitness and their interests, here are some simple examples of physical activities that would help kids to meet the daily 60-minute recommendation:
- 30-minute bike ride plus 30 minutes of free play (e.g. climbing trees, playing on the monkey bars, playing tag with friends)
- 60-minute basketball, volleyball, hockey, or soccer practice (assuming the practice is well organized and the kids are not simply standing around for long periods)
- 60-minute hike over hilly terrain (e.g. lots of up-and-down demanding plenty of leg work)
- 30-minute swimming lesson plus 30 minutes of hopscotch and tag with friends
Vigorous activity, and activities for muscle and bones
There are a couple of extra nuances to consider in the 60-minute recommendation. According to the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth, your child should be engaged in vigorous physical activities at least three days per week. Same goes for muscle and bone strengthening activities.
In other words, it’s fine to be moderately active for 60 minutes on most days, but occasionally your child needs to work their heart, lungs, and muscles in a vigorous way.
An intense hockey or soccer game may qualify as vigorous activity. Alternatively, a 60-minute mountain bike ride over tough hills and trails may do the trick.
To strengthen bone and muscle, most of the same activities will meet that purpose. With pre-pubertal children, pediatricians and sports physiologists will generally tell you that own-bodyweight exercises are sufficient to build strong bones and muscles. The classics are pushups, squats, chin-ups, and crunches, but even these may be more than your child requires. Your child can often get a similar muscle workout by climbing trees or pedaling a bike. And these activities are likely a lot more fun for your child.
Keep track with an activity log
Don’t be intimidated by the 60-minute physical activity guidelines. If you ensure that your child plays actively every day or participates in well-designed sport programs, it’s not difficult to meet the recommendations. However, if you want to be extra sure, print off a copy of the Active for Life Activity Log for your fridge or family bulletin board, and keep track through the week!