Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth


Recently, ParticipAction released the latest report card on physical activity for children and youth. Once again, we earned a D-! Although most children under the age of 5 years are physically active enough, only 9% of children and youth ages 5 to 17 meet the guidelines.


I think part of the reasons children and youth are not active enough include an overestimation of how much they do as well as an overestimation of the intensity of physical activities done. Let me put that into perspective. Many of our children participate in sport and other recreational activities in addition to the required physical education in school. We might think their hour of soccer, hockey, track, dance, and/or their 30-45 minutes of physical education covers their needs. It does not. The reality is even with the best teachers and/or coaches who quickly explain what needs to be done and how it should be done, the entire lesson or practice is not spent engaged in moderate or more intense physical activity – nor should it be. To learn how to properly do skills and/or play the game, requires movement time that is not always at a moderate or greater level of intensity. Please do not think I am suggesting that sport, recreation and physical education are not good for children and youth. They are. In fact, I am likely the strongest advocate for them – suggesting we need at least one hour of PE every day for our children taught by qualified PE teachers. What I am saying is that they alone do not meet our children’s needs for physical activity, we need to supplement these with active play at home, active recreation, active transportation, and possibly even exercise.


The physical activity guidelines for children and youth clearly state they need at LEAST 60 minutes of moderate or more intense physical activity EACH day. The research I have done in the province (PACY 1 & 2; Keeping Pace) where we objectively measured the physical activity of boys and girls in grades 3, 7, and 11 showed that many children and a few youth met the guidelines on 4 to 6 days per week only needing one more day or just 10-15 minutes more physical activity each day. In essence then, we need to get our children to do just a little more each day.


NEW to the report card is the suggestion that we need to consider the whole day and more than just physical activity. The new 24-hour movement guidelines talk about “Sweat, Step, Sleep, and Sit”. The recommendations for physical activity have not changed – children and youth are still recommended to get at least 60 minutes of moderate or more intense physical activity each day. What is new is a focus on at least several hours of light physical activity. Also new is a focus on uninterrupted sleep of 9-11 hours for children 5 to 13 years old and 8-10 hours for youth 14-17 years old complete with consistent to bed and wake up times. We are also reminded that children and youth should have no more than 2-hours of recreational screen time and that their sitting should be limited as much as possible.


Highlights from this report card suggest that children are too tired to be physically active and because they are not physically active enough, they do not sleep long enough or fitfully. Clearly, we have a conundrum on our hands. We need to recognize our children’s need to sleep and help them develop better sleeping habits.