24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children

Date Published: 06 Jun 2019 Categories: News
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In light of Youth Month in June, we have collated the most recent Movement Guidelines for Children.

What is the Importance of Movement for Children?

Movement is an essential part of life, especially in the early stages of childhood as it is crucial for physical and cognitive development. Yet, only about half of South African children are meeting the recommendation for levels of physical activity, as revealed by the latest Healthy Active Kids South Africa (HAKSA) 2018 Report Card.

There is also increasing evidence of the adverse effects of sitting too much and spending too much time on screens. While technology has its place, screen time takes away from face-to-face interactions between peers. This can impact negatively on the emotional well-being of children.


How much movement do children need?

Now that we know why movement is important for children, we can learn how to help them achieve the recommendations for healthy living.

The new South African 24-hour Movement Guidelines for Birth to Five years, which describes how much physical activity, sitting, screen time and sleep babies, toddlers and children between 0-5 should be getting, was launched in December 2018. These are the first guidelines targeting physical activity, sitting behaviour, screen time and sleep in South African children.

“We have the opportunity in the early years to set children on the best path for the growth, health and development by laying down the right foundation in terms of their activity, screen time and sleep” says Dr Catherine Draper – a senior researcher at Wits University, and leader of the initiative to develop South African 24-hour Movement Guidelines for Birth to Five Years, which has been supported by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation South Africa.

In the absence of locally-developed 24-hour movement guidelines for school-aged children, guidelines from countries like Australia and Canada could be used.


Movement Guidelines for Children

Children and Physical Activity

Only about half of SA children are meeting the recommendation for levels of physical activity, averaging between 57 and 65 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day. In a study of 12 countries, South Africa had the greatest percentage of learners (32%) who were not participating in physical education at school.


Physical Activity Guidelines for Children

Birth to 1 year                         30 minutes including tummy time, reaching or crawling

1 & 2 years                              3 hours spread throughout the day

3, 4 & 5 years                          3 hours spread throughout the day, of which 60 minutes  should be moderate- to vigorous intensity physical activity (that  increases their heart rate)

School-aged children              1 hour of moderate- to vigorous intensity physical activity (that increases their heart rate) per day


Children and Sitting

Children attending preschools in a range of areas in South Africa spend about 70% of their preschool day sitting.

Sitting Guidelines for Children

Birth to 1 year                         Babies should not be strapped up and unable to move for more than 1 hour at a time

1 & 2 years                              Toddlers should not be strapped up and unable to move for more than 1 hour at a time) Time spent sitting should include activities that promote development, such as playing with blocks and being read to.

3, 4 & 5 years                          Time spent sitting should include activities that promote development, such as doing puzzles and drawing.

School-aged children              Long periods of sitting should be broken up as often as possible



Children and Sleep

It is well-known that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but how much sleep do children need? Here are the latest sleep guidelines for children.

Sleep Guidelines for Children

Birth to 1 year                        14-17 hours (for babies 0-3 months) and 12-16 hours (for babies 4-11 months), including naps in the day

1 & 2 years                              11-14 hours, including naps in the day

3, 4 & 5 years                          11-13 hours, which may include a nap

School-aged children              Children (5–13 years) should have 9 to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night and adolescents (14–17 years) should have 8 to 10 hours uninterrupted sleep per night


Children and Screen Time

South African children were found to spend an average of just over 3 hours on screens per day (not including school work). Only a third of children met the screen time recommendation for their age.

Screen time Guidelines for Children

Birth to 1 year                         NO screen time

1 & 2 years                              NO screen time for toddlers up to 24 months, <1 hour of screen time for toddlers between 24 and 36 months

3, 4 & 5 years                          <1 hour of screen time

School-aged children              <2 hours of recreational screen time


Furthermore, children should be encouraged to do more energetic play, and age-appropriate, interactive activities should be favoured.


Healthy Active Kids at SSISA

The Sports Science Institute of SA’s Kidz on the Move is an evidence-based programme coordinated by a team of specialists in children’s physical activity, including bio- and kinderkineticists. During the group classes, kids have an opportunity to participate in age-appropriate activities that help improve their gross motor skills, coordination, strength and fitness. Individual sessions are also available as an option.

Click here to find out more.

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