How Important is Exercise for Toddlers?

July 22, 2016

Most parents and can barely keep up with little ones when it comes to activity and energy. They are always running, jumping and moving around.

We may think that toddlers get more than enough exercise.

However, obesity among the ages of 6 -10 is on the rise and reports show the physical activity that your toddler engages in can have a drastic impact on their health as they mature into adulthood.

Parents need to be involved and help organize daily fitness even for young children.

How much time do physicians recommend?

Which activities should parents participate in?

In this article, we’ll dive into the importance of exercise for toddlers and some tips and activities to get them moving.

The recommendations vary but it’s safe to say that toddlers (ages 1-4) be getting at a minimum 90 - 180 minutes of accumulated activity per day.

National Association of Sports and Physical Education recommends that on a daily basis toddlers should

  • get a minimum of 30 minutes of structured exercise per day
  • get a minimum one hour of unstructured exercise per day had the same recommendations but added

  • toddlers should not be inactive for more than one hour at a time except when sleeping

The Infant & Toddler Forum white paper Physical Activity and Play for Toddlers recommends that toddlers under the age of five should have

  • at least three hours of activity each day.

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) recommends that toddlers accumulate

  • at least 180 minutes of physical activity per day
  • including progressing towards at least 60 minutes of energetic play by age 5.

The Benefits of Excercise for Toddlers

  • Improved Sleep
  • Better appetite
  • Better weight maintenance
  • Happier and more productive than non-active toddlers
  • Less likely to get diseases as the child gets older
  • Increase strength and development of skeletal muscles
  • Competence and confidence

In addition, unstructured playtime contributes towards their imaginative and creative skills.

Improved Brain Health

In an article Professor Len Lamond of the British Heart Foundation National Centre said…

“Parents take their children’s nutrition very seriously but often neglect activity levels… There’s a tendency to assume that young children are naturally active, but that’s a huge
myth… Movement at an early age is critical to the development of the brain.”

Exercise is particularly important for children.

Science professor Phil Tomporowski spoke on the importance of exercise for children, especially toddlers because physical activity has, “a more long-lasting effect on brains that are still developing.”

How exercise helps your child’s cognitive skills

  • Increased blood flow to the brain, impacting memory and learning.
  • Exercise also builds new brain cells. More exercise contributes to better memory and higher creativity.
  • Increased nerve cell growth, contributing to a greater capacity for knowledge.

In addition, active toddlers have marked academic performance.

What Happens to Toddlers Who Don’t Excercise?

Toddlers who don’t get sufficient exercise and who watch too many hours of television are in danger of becoming couch potatoes, which happens to be a serious problem in the United States.

A surveyed group of adults identified lack of exercise and obesity among the biggest health concerns for children in their communities.

What are some of the long-term results of child obesity?

Unfortunately, obesity can contribute towards problems as a teenager and young adult, including

  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Drug abuse

The child couch potato phenomenon isn’t exclusive to the United States.

Most children in Britain don’t obtain the sufficient or recommended levels of activity each day.

The end result?

In Britain a fifth of children are overweight.

By 2050, many experts predict that a staggering two-thirds of children of British children will be obese.

Is Television Hazardous to Toddlers Health?

Not all television programs are bad! DVDs and scheduled programming that incorporates singing and dancing can contribute toward a daily exercise program; however, it shouldn’t be the sole focus of your toddler’s daily physical activity.

By limiting television time to less than two hours a day, you’re helping the child break the habit of possibly becoming dependent on electronic devices and habitual television watching in the future.

Activities for Toddlers?

The Infant & Toddler Forum white paper and CSEP physical activity guidelines for the early years also included specific goals for children in certain age ranges.

Children 2 - 3 years of age:

  • Jumping
  • Hopping
  • Kicking
  • Climbing
  • Brisk Walking or Crawling
  • Dancing

Children 3 -4 years of age:

  • Running
  • Catching a ball
  • Riding a scooter
  • Riding a tricycle or two wheeled bike with training wheels
  • Skipping

Getting Your Toddler Moving

To get started, you can look for ways to incorporate activities into their child’s daily routine. While taking walks with the children count trees, cars, animals and even introduce the concept of colors.

Once your child is comfortable with basic physical activities, you can introduce them to dance, yoga, and martial arts. All of which contribute towards better cognitive reasoning and a higher level of self-esteem.


Stretching is a great way to introduce your child to structured exercise. You can also participate in basic stretches with your child. recommended the following simple stretches:

  • Shoulder Shrugs
  • Heavy Breathing
  • Planks
  • Leg Lifts

Core Exercises

Stretching too easy?

The Inspired Treehouse recommends basic core exercises such as planks, bridges, and supermans to improve balance, posture, and overall body strength.

More Barefoot Time

Speaking of body strength, did you know that allowing your child to walk around barefoot develops muscles, and contributes towards better posture?

Sure, toddler sneakers and sandals may look cute, but when the toddler is in the house, it is best to let the child walk around barefoot.

Podiatrist Tracy Byrne, noticed that wearing shoes at an early age hampers a child’s cerebral development

“Toddlers keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot… the feedback they get from the ground means there is less need to look down.”

She also mentions that toddlers who start wearing shoes too young risk natural foot growth and development, possibly contributing towards structural and functional damage.

Exercise & Child Care

Parents can also look for nurseries, day cares, nannies and babysitters who understand the need for structured and unstructured physical activity.

Exercise in a child care center helps develop muscles and reflexes, this also gives toddlers the opportunity to explore a structured environment and develop relationships with other children.

Allowing your child to interact with other children at the playground or daycare center is a good way to observe and develop their self-esteem.


Parents need to be mindful of creating a daily exercise program for their children, this will contribute towards a healthier toddler, a successful childhood, and will help teach them healthy habits for adulthood.

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