New Exercise Guidelines Include Kids as Young as Age 3

kids running

Recently updated physical activity guidelines from federal health officials are aiming at even younger Americans than ever before.

Preschoolers are now included in the new guidelines, which are written by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The original recommendations, published in 2008, focused on adults and youth ages 6 to 17. The newly revised guidelines incorporate scientific research and knowledge that have come out since the original recommendations.

Recent research spurred the addition of the younger age group, the guidelines’ authors say.

The Recommendations

The new key guidelines for preschool-aged children ages 3 through 5 recommend:

  • Being active throughout the day.
  • Encouragement by parents and caregivers for active play of light, moderate or vigorous intensity.

The guidelines also recommend that parents or caregivers try to ensure their preschooler has at least three hours of activity a day.

“So much of development occurs in those early years,” says pediatric cardiologist Walter Hoyt, MD, who specializes in pediatric cardiology and sports cardiology at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s. “By reinstituting an active childhood, we can have a much better impact on a child’s health throughout his or her lifetime.”

The guidelines say that research shows school physical education classes are an important way to reach the activity goals. Physical activity should be an important component of education in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood as well, Dr. Hoyt says.

Why Younger Children?

Most of us think of preschoolers as active kids who are busy exploring their environments and testing their newfound mobility.

But the result of the proliferation of smart phones, video games and other screen distractions is children who are moving less, Dr. Hoyt says.

Including preschoolers in the physical activity guidelines “makes sense when you think about the current habits of Americans as a whole,” Dr. Hoyt says. “As a sedentary lifestyle has crept into earlier stages of life, what once was predominantly adult issue has become important earlier and earlier.”

Goal: Be Active All Day

The guidelines can help parents help their kids become healthy adults by making physical activity part of their everyday life – not simply a separate activity that is practiced only on a treadmill or in a class or gym, Dr. Hoyt says.

“Parents should make physical activity an easy, natural habit for their children, and help them to understand a healthy lifestyle from an earlier stage,” Dr. Hoyt says. “Physical activity should be an important component of education in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.”

The goal is to get to a more regular, if not daily, routine of exercise and physical activity, he says.

“The guidelines can help parents understand the importance of physical activity even at those early ages,” he says. “That can have a very long-term, positive impact on any individual.”

Walter Hoyt, MD, is a pediatric cardiologist specializing in pediatric cardiology and sports cardiology at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s.

Related Links

Tips, Advice and Milestones for Every Stage of Your Child’s Development

American College of Sports Medicine initiative “Exercise is Medicine”

Webinar Recording of Physical Activity Guidelines

UH Virtual Visit gives you convenient 24/7 access to quality non-emergency health care, using your phone, tablet or PC.

Need to see a doctor? Find a pediatric primary care physician near you.

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