Saturday, July 12, 2014
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What kind of physical activity does a toddler need?

The National Association of Sports and Physical Education recommends that toddlers 12 to 36 months old should get at least 30 minutes of structured adult led physical activity, and at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity or free play. Here's how to do it!

What kind of physical activity does a toddler need?

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It seems like 2-years-olds are always on the move. A typical day for a toddler might involve running around the house as your chasing him, wearing himself out at the playground, and racing around on a ride on toy.

But is this enough physical activity? What kind of exercise does a toddler need? The National Association of Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends that toddlers 12 to 36 months old should get at least 30 minutes of structured adult led physical activity, and at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity or free play. It is also recommended that toddlers should not spend more than one hour being inactive except when they are sleeping.

These are important guidelines. Studies have found that active children sleep better, maintain healthier weight and remain active through childhood. Being active also helps prevent diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

It is important to establish the habit of being active early and help your toddler be on the go all day long. Let’s look more closely at what the guidelines mean and how to make it happen at your house!

Structured Physical Activity

This needs to be adult led. This is physical activity that you plan to do with your child and usually involves teaching about the activity and creating a bond with your child. Keep in mind that what you do should be developmentally right for your child and fun for both of you!  Remember that toddlers have short attention spans so you may need multiple ideas for your 30 minutes.

Here are some ideas:

Play with a ball.  This simple toy is great for teaching coordination! With a younger toddler it’s rolling or passing. When they get older it’s throwing, kicking or running with the ball.

Dance to music!  Besides coordination, it also teaches body awareness and creativity.

Crawl and/or do funny walks or crawls together. Take big steps, be on your toes, walk like a bear, do “spaghetti legs”,   or walk like a monster!  These are also activities for coordination, awareness and creativity.

Explore your backyard or park. What could be better for helping your child learn about the world around them?

Walk together! Our most basic physical activity is still the best way to explore and be fit.

Help your toddler climb on playground equipment. This too can be simple - monkey bars are great for building strength!

Play games like hide and seek, or tag.  Younger toddlers may not fully understand the game but they’ll enjoy the activities of being chased or tickled (or peek-a-boo behind the couch!).

Make an obstacle course out of pillows and blankets. This teaches balance.

Play with bubbles or balloons. This is pure fun!

Unstructured Physical Activity

This is free play and your child needs to feel that they run the show. He or she gets to pick the what and the where.  There are some very important steps adults need to take to make this work.

First: It can be anywhere, a back yard, park, living room, play room or bed room, but make sure the area is open and safe.

Second: Make sure that  the toys or play equipment encourage physical activity. Think in terms of ride-on or push-pull toys.

Third: There needs to be an adult that if needed (or asked)  can supervise, participate or help during the activity.

Some examples of free play:

These can be easy and common: playing with a ball; push and pull toys; pretend vacuuming, mowing lawn, and sweeping; playing on playground equipment; dancing to music; ride on toys like tricycles and scooters; playing with balloons.

Physical activity should be fun and occur naturally. Make sure you plan 30 minutes a day of interactive activity with your toddler and provide the opportunity for 1 hour a day of free play.

The last recommendation is that children 2 years-old and under should not watch any television and children over 2 should watch less than 2 hours of TV a day. That includes computer, video games, cell phones, and other hand held devices. The best activities and experiences for your child are the ones they do with you and away from the TV screen.

Follow these recommended guidelines and your child will grow up to be happy, healthy, and active!


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Lauren Falini Bariatric exercise physiologist, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Temple University Hospital
Christopher C. Chang, M.D., Ph.D Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Jefferson Medical Colg
Mario Cruz, M.D. St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Drexel University College of Medicine
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist - The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic, CHOP
Gary A. Emmett, M.D. Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Lauren Falini Bariatric exercise physiologist, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Crozer-Keystone Health System
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D. Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Jefferson Medical Colg
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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