Physical Fitness in Early Childhood & How Much Exercise Is Enough

Childhood and adolescence are crucial periods of life, since dramatic physiological and psychological changes take place at these ages. Likewise, lifestyle and healthy/unhealthy behaviors are established during these years, which may influence adult behavior and health status. Thorough reviews have recently discussed the associations between physical activity at young ages and its short/long-term consequences on health.Schools may play an important role by identifying children with low physical fitness and by promoting positive health behaviors such as encouraging children to be active, with special emphasis on the intensity of the activity.In addition to its obvious health benefits, exercise improves children’s psychological and social well-being. school children be provided recess each day. Growing evidence links recess to improved physical health, social skills and cognitive development. As Haitham, one of our Core Child Program teachers says, “Sports and exercise improve children’s self-confidence, ability to connect with others, understanding of teamwork, and respect for their peers.”  Moreover, incorporating exercise into early education programs actually fosters children’s academic success.  Studies show that when children begin to exercise at an early age, they tend to academically perform better, have fewer behavioral and disciplinary problems, and can pay attention in class longer than their peers.


Because of the vast benefits of physical activity at a young age, experts recommend that early childhood programs incorporate 1-2 hours of fitness through both structured and unstructured exercise.Structured activities are planned and led by an adult, whereas unstructured activities are periods of free play. At TYO, children in the Core Child Program begin their day with a game of “Simon Says” where they mimic Haitham as he runs in place, does jumping jacks, claps his hands, and swings his arms. They also participate in both structured and unstructured activities in their sports class for 30 minutes each day. Expertsalso recommend using transitions throughout the day as fitness opportunities. TYO’s Core Child Program implements this through its holistic methodology where children move from classroom to classroom throughout the day.

Best Elements of Fitness: If you’ve ever watched kids on a playground, you’ve seen the three elements of fitness in action when they:

  • Run away from the kid who’s “it” (endurance)
  • Cross the monkey bars (strength)
  • Bend down to tie their shoes (flexibility)

Parents should encourage their kids to do a variety of activities so that they can work on all three elements. Parents should make sure that their kids get enough exercise. So, how much is enough? Kids and teens should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) offers these activity guidelines for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers:

Age Minimum Daily Activity Comments
Infant No specific requirements Physical activity should encourage motor development
Toddler 1½ hours 30 minutes planned physical activity 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)
Preschooler 2 hours 60 minutes planned physical activity & 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)
School age 1 hour or more Break up into bouts of 15 minutes or more

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