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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 limits to:

  • recreational screen time
  • sedentary transport for example 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, for example computers, cell phones, tablets
  • playing passive video games (games with no or very little body movement
  • always travelling in a motor vehicle and never walking
  • watching TV

The Canadian 24- Hour Movement Guidelines 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, for example heart problems

In Canada, children and teens spend almost 2 out of every 3 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 often learn better. An example of this is that if children go for a 10-minute walk before a test, they may be more relaxed when taking the test.

So will sitting less benefit my child’s health?

Yes. Research shows that being more active has health benefits, even if people already do moderate or vigorous activity every day. 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.​

Canadian 24- Hour Movement Guidelines recommend at least 60 minutes (1 hour) of moderate to vigorous activity every day 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. 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.​

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 talking or texting
  • 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 more active and 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 if you're active you may not be as healthy as you could be if you're mostly sedentary. If you're only active for an hour a day and sedentary for the rest of the time, you don't get all the health benefits from being active. It's important to be more active and have less sedentary time.​

A good first step is to know that you need to be less sedentary. There are many ways to remind yourself to be more active during the day such as using the screen saver on your computer or an 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 like going for a short walk on a break, or a longer walk at lunch, or both
  • go and see coworkers in person sometimes instead of using technology
  • walk in side or outside with coworkers whenever you can

Teach children and teens to limit sedentary time. Teach them the health benefits of less sedentary time and being more active. To keep yourself motivated and to see your progress it's a good idea to keep track of how much time you spend being active and on sedentary activities.​

Current as of: September 7, 2018

Author: Healthy Children and Families, Alberta Health Services