Physical activity for babies and children: why and how much


Physical activity is a fundamental aspect of a child’s development, playing a crucial role in shaping their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Engaging in regular physical activities from an early age lays the foundation for a healthy and active lifestyle throughout one’s life. In this article, we will explore the importance of physical activity for babies and children, the various benefits it offers, and recommendations on how much activity is appropriate for different age groups.

The Importance of Physical Activity for Babies:

Babies may not be running and playing like older children, but physical activity is still vital for their development. Tummy time, for example, helps infants develop strength in their neck and upper body, fostering motor skills and coordination. Additionally, physical activity supports the development of gross motor skills, such as rolling, crawling, and eventually walking.

Regular physical activity during infancy has been linked to improved sleep patterns, a crucial aspect of a baby’s overall health and well-being. It also sets the stage for a healthy weight trajectory, reducing the risk of childhood obesity and associated health issues.

Moreover, physical activities for babies create opportunities for sensory exploration, aiding cognitive development. Interacting with the environment through touch, sight, and sound enhances their understanding of the world around them.

The Benefits of Physical Activity for Children:

As children grow, the benefits of physical activity become even more pronounced. Regular exercise supports the development of strong bones and muscles, contributing to overall physical health. It is also instrumental in maintaining a healthy weight, reducing the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Beyond the physical advantages, active play promotes the development of social and emotional skills. Team sports, for example, teach children about cooperation, teamwork, and communication. Physical activities also provide opportunities for children to learn about goal-setting, resilience, and perseverance, all of which contribute to positive mental health.

Children who engage in regular physical activity are more likely to exhibit better focus and concentration in academic settings. Exercise has been shown to enhance cognitive function, leading to improved academic performance and increased creativity.

How Much Physical Activity is Ideal for Children:

The recommended amount of physical activity varies depending on the child’s age. The World Health Organization (WHO) and various health organizations provide guidelines to help parents and caregivers ensure children get the right amount of exercise.

For infants (under one-year-old), physical activity includes activities like tummy time, reaching, and grasping. As babies become more mobile, activities such as crawling and pulling up are encouraged.
For toddlers (1-2 years old), at least 180 minutes of various physical activities throughout the day is recommended. This can include active play, such as running, jumping, and climbing, as well as activities that promote motor skills, like kicking a ball.

Preschool-aged children (3-4 years old) should accumulate at least 180 minutes of physical activity, including active play and structured activities like dance or organized sports. Screen time should be limited, and sedentary activities should be interspersed with periods of active play.

For children aged 5-17 years, at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily is recommended. This can include activities like running, swimming, biking, or team sports. Additionally, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities should be incorporated at least three times per week.


Physical activity is a cornerstone of a child’s healthy development, influencing their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Encouraging and supporting active play from infancy through adolescence establishes a strong foundation for a lifetime of health and well-being. As caregivers and parents, understanding the importance of physical activity and following age-appropriate guidelines can contribute significantly to a child’s overall growth and development.