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Active Children

Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Canada is the first country in the world to have guidelines about limiting the time children and teens spend being inactive(sedentary) each day. The guidelines recommend limiting:

  • recreational screen time
  • sedentary transport (e.g., always travelling in a motor vehicle instead of walking)
  • sitting or spending time inside for long periods of time

Sedentary behaviours for children include:

  • not moving around or using much energy
  • sitting for long periods of time
  • using technology (e.g., computers, cell phones, tablets)
  • playing passive video games
  • always travelling in a motor vehicle and never walking
  • watching TV

The Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children also show how important it is for children to move often, every day.

What’s the problem with being sedentary?

Research shows that there’s a direct link between having more sedentary time and:

  • decreased level of fitness
  • low self-esteem
  • not doing well in school
  • obesity and other health problems (e.g., heart problems)
  • being more aggressive

In Canada, children and teens spend 62% of the hours they’re awake being sedentary. The average amount of screen time school-age children have in a day is 6 to 8 hours.

What are the benefits of my child being more active?

Having less sedentary time has many health benefits. Children who are active are often better learners (e.g., if children go for a 10-minute walk before a test, they may be more relaxed when taking the test). ​However, some schools aren’t aware of how important it is to decrease sedentary time for students.

So will sitting less benefit my child’s health?

Research shows that being less sedentary has health benefits, even if people already do moderate or vigorous activity everyday. Standing and moving around more often during the day can burn a few hundred more calories in a day. However, just being less sedentary is only one part of being healthy. It’s important to spend less time being sedentary and more time being active. These habits will set children up to be healthier and happier.

Activity guidelines in Canada recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity everyday for children and teens.

How do I keep my child active and decrease sedentary behaviour time?

Keeping children active with less sedentary time can be a challenge, but it’s a shared responsibility between parents, schools, and communities. For example, if schools keep children active for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, the other 30 minutes could be done at home or in the community.

Parents have the most responsibility when it comes to decreasing sedentary time because most of it happens after school. It would help if schools encouraged children to decrease sedentary time and be more active on the way to and from school if possible.

Here are some ideas to help schools decrease sedentary time:

  • make time for active breaks during the school day
  • encourage children to be active and play games during recess instead of standing around
  • have daily physical activity (DPA) bins with many different games and activities for different age groups
  • encourage children to take part in intramurals and have options other than just sports

There are many light-intensity activities that can replace sedentary time. Here are a few:

  • have your children walk or bike to school with friends instead of driving them
  • encourage after-school activities like soccer, biking, team sports, dance class, scouts, guides, or a hiking or walking group
  • play active games as a family
  • limit TV, sedentary video games, texting, and other screen time
  • teach your children to help prepare meals with age-appropriate tasks
  • offer active ways to do chores inside and outside—make sure to change things up often so children don’t get bored
  • encourage children to see friends in person instead of only communicating with technology
  • go for regular family walks or bike rides
  • ask children about ways they’d like to be active as a family

Be a Good Role Model

The less sedentary you are, the better it is for your health. Teach your children about the benefits of being active and lead by example.

Even people who are active may not be as healthy as they could be if they’re mostly sedentary. If someone is only active for an hour a day and sedentary for the rest of the time, they don’t get all the health benefits from being active. It’s important to be more active and decrease sedentary time.

A good first step is to know that you need to be less sedentary. There are many ways to remind you to be more active during the day (e.g., screen saver on your computer, app on your phone).

Try these ideas to be less sedentary:

  • stand up more often
  • move around more often
  • stand up and stretch often at home and at work
  • take active breaks during your work day (e.g., a short walk on a break, and/or a longer walk at lunch)
  • go and see co-workers in person sometimes instead of using technology
  • walk in side or outside with co-workers whenever you can

Teach children and teens to limit sedentary time. Teach them the health benefits of less sedentary time and being more active. It’s a good idea to keep track of how much time is spent being active and on sedentary activities.

Current as of: January 25, 2016

Author: Chronic Disease Prevention, Alberta Health Services