Statistics Canada recently published two reports on children’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour, and results showed the benefits of time spent outdoors.
When compared side by side, children aged 3 and 4 were more likely than 5-year-olds to meet the physical activity guidelines. But before we jump to conclusions about preschoolers, it’s important to note the difference in recommendations for physical activity between each age group.
According to physical activity guidelines in Canada, 3 and 4-year-olds should get a minimum of 180 minutes of any type of activity every day, while 5-year-olds are required to complete at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in 24 hours.
Instead of plopping 5-year-olds on a treadmill for an hour – because there’s no fun (or benefit) in that – kids need to be actively engaged at high intensities throughout the course of a day. This can be challenging when kids’ schedules are jam-packed and allow little wiggle room for unstructured play after school, a key time for children’s physical activity.
Another factor affecting physical activity in children is the amount of screen time per day. Only 22% of 3 and 4-year-olds met the recommendation of less than 60 minutes of screen time per day, while 76% of 5-year-olds hit the target of less than two hours. In any case, just because a child meets the minimum activity guidelines doesn’t mean they’ll meet the screen time guidelines.
These recommendations can put a lot of pressure on parents to be diligent throughout the school year, but Statistics Canada studies also show the payoff. Among children aged 7 to 14-years-old, each additional hour outdoors per day is associated with less sedentary time, more steps per day, and more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. In addition, children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to have problems with friends.
Modeling positive health habits and developing physical literacy from infancy can make all the difference for children as they age, despite differences in gender and household income. Learning from countries with comparable culture and climate, like those in northern Europe, might also help Canadian kids improve in global physical activity and health rankings.
We’ve got to start somewhere. Might as well be outdoors.