Moving, Sitting and Sleeping for Optimal Health in Young People

The following is a blog post from Stephen Hunter, PhD Student in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation at the University of Alberta. He was part of the research group responsible for reviewing the evidence that was used to inform the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years: Ages 0-4 and Children and Youth: Ages 5-17. Lori Blahey is a former Senior Marketing Consultant at EPL.

Moving, sitting and sleeping play an important role in young people’s health. These interconnected behaviours make up a 24-hour day1, meaning more time spent in one behaviour will result in less time spent in one or both other behaviours. For instance, moving more throughout the day will reduce the amount of time available for sitting or sleeping. For optimal health, we want to move more, sit less and have good quality sleep.

Historically, guidelines around movement for Canadian young people have been focused on physical activity. However, researchers began to realize health benefits from being physically active could be offset by too much sedentary behaviour or too little sleep1,2. That’s why Canada led the development of the world’s first public health guidelines that combine moving (physical activity), sitting (sedentary behaviour) and sleeping for children up to 17 years old 3,4. To date, numerous countries and the World Health Organization have followed suit5.

What are the guidelines?

 24 Hour Movement Guidelines for Early Years Children (0-4 years)

  Move Sit Sleep
(Less than 1 year)
Being physically active several times in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play — more is better.
For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day while awake.
Not being restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., in a stroller or high chair).

Screen time is not recommended.

14 to 17 hours (for those aged 0-3 months)   


12 to 16 hours (for those aged 4-11 months)

(1 to 2 years)
At least 180 minutes at any intensity, including energetic play. Not being restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., in a stroller or high chair) or sitting for extended periods.                

For those younger than 2 years, sedentary screen time is not recommended. For those aged 2 years, sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour — less is better.

11 to 14 hours                   

Consistent bedtimes and wake-up times.

(3 to 4 years)
At least 180 minutes of which at least 60 minutes is energetic play. Sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour — less is better. 10 to 13 hours                  

May include a nap

Consistent bedtimes and wake-up times.

All Ages Move in a variety of physical activities spread throughout the day — more is better. When sedentary, engaging in pursuits such as reading and storytelling with a caregiver is encouraged. Good-quality sleep, including naps.

24 Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth (5-17 years)

Sweat (Move)
  • An accumulation of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity involving a variety of aerobic activities.
  • Vigorous physical activities and muscle and bone strengthening activities should each be incorporated at least 3 days per week.
Step (Move)
  • Several hours of a variety of structured and unstructured light physical activities.
  • No more than 2 hours per day of recreational screen time.
  • Limited sitting for extended period.
  • Uninterrupted 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night for those aged 5–13 years.
  • Uninterrupted 8 to 10 hours per night for those aged 14–17 years.
  • Consistent bed and wake-up times.

To view the full guidelines and access additional resources, visit the ParticipACTION website.

What are the health benefits of following these guidelines?

There are several health benefits of adding more movement throughout the day — here are just a few examples:

Early Years Children                     
  • Healthy growth 
  • Better learning and thinking 
  • Improved motor development 
  • Higher fitness levels 
  • Increased quality of life 
  • Reduced injuries 
Children and Youth                     
  • Improved health and fitness
  • Do better in school 
  • Improved self-esteem and confidence 
  • Maintain a healthy body weight 
  • Grow stronger 
  • Learn new skills

What are some simple movement ideas that parents can do at home?

Movements can be unstructured activities such as walking to and from the grocery store, or structured activities that include rules such as games or sports. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Scatter toys and objects on the floor to encourage crawling, rolling and reaching.
  • Encourage jumping on two feet, hopping on one foot, leaping from one foot to the other.
  • Have your child act out characters, or actions while reading, storytelling or playing games.
  • Have your child act out animal actions like the bear crawl, galloping like a horse or hopping like a frog.
  • Create obstacle courses with household items for your child to move around and jump or hop over.
  • Have dance parties throughout the day.
  • Incorporate 5 to 10 minute activity breaks to interrupt long periods of sitting.

What about COVID-19?

Due to the global pandemic, regular routines for parents and children have significantly changed. It is understandable that parents may find it difficult to support their children in meeting daily movement behaviour recommendations. However, moving more, sitting less and preserving good quality sleep have been linked to various social-emotional3,4 and mental health outcomes6, which may help children handle the stress of disrupted routines a little better. Letting children burn off some energy may also improve their attention and mood7, which in turn, can positively affect their willingness and focus on other non-screen based indoor activities such as reading, drawing or playing with toys.

Going outside to exercise — which is currently allowed by the Government of Canada 8 — is a great opportunity to be active as a family, give children a little more space to burn off energy and get some much-needed light exposure. Natural light, even on cloudy days, can be beneficial for mental health and is difficult to replicate while indoors9.


Keeping a healthy balance of moving, sitting and sleeping can be challenging. However, finding ways to keep young people moving more, sitting less and getting good quality sleep is imperative for healthy growth and development. 

The development of these guidelines was led by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and involved some of the top national and international researchers as well as several funding partners, stakeholders and end-users3,4. Dr. Valerie Carson from the University of Alberta co-led both guideline projects. Stephen was among a group responsible for reviewing research, extracting information and synthesizing the findings. From start to finish, the process took approximately two years for each guideline.

Full definitions and examples of the terms used above are available on the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology10:

Below are some key terms explained:  

  • Screen time includes watching TV, using a smartphone/tablet, using a computer or playing video games.
  • Tummy time means time your infant spends on their stomach while on the floor.
  • Energetic play includes activities such as throwing and catching, riding a tricycle or bike, jumping and dancing.
  • Moderate physical activities include cycling, brisk walking, household chores and catching and throwing games.
  • Vigorous physical activities include fast bicycle riding, jumping rope, martial arts, running, vigorous dancing and aerobics.
  • Muscle strengthening activities include push-ups, sit-ups, body weight exercises like squats, resistance bands, hand-held weights, weight machines and chores that require heavy lifting and carrying.
  • Bone strengthening activities include running, jumping rope, lifting weights, as well as games that involve hopping, skipping or jumping like hopscotch.


  1. Chaput, J. P., Carson, V., Gray, C. E., & Tremblay, M. S. (2014). Importance of all movement behaviors in a 24 hour period for overall health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health11(12), 12575-12581.
  2. Tremblay, M. S., Esliger, D. W., Tremblay, A., & Colley, R. (2007). Incidental movement, lifestyle-embedded activity and sleep: New frontiers in physical activity assessment. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism32(S2E), S208-S217.
  3. Tremblay, M. S., Carson, V., Chaput, J. P., Connor Gorber, S., Dinh, T., Duggan, M., ... & Janssen, I. (2016). Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for children and youth: an integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism41(6), S311-S327.
  4. Tremblay, M. S., Chaput, J. P., Adamo, K. B., Aubert, S., Barnes, J. D., Choquette, L., ... & Gruber, R. (2017). Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for the early years (0–4 years): an integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep. BMC Public Health17(5), 874.
  5. World Health Organization. (‎2019)‎. Guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under 5 years of age. World Health Organization. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO
  6. Rodriguez-Ayllon, M., Cadenas-Sanchez, C., Estévez-López, F., Muñoz, N. E., Mora-Gonzalez, J., Migueles, J. H., ... & Catena, A. (2019). Role of physical activity and sedentary behavior in the mental health of preschoolers, children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 1-28.
  7. Bidzan-Bluma, I., & Lipowska, M. (2018). Physical activity and cognitive functioning of children: a systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(4), 800.
  8. Government of Canada. (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Prevention and risks. Available at Accessed May 12, 2020.
  9. Young, S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience32(6), 394
  10. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. (2017). Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines: Glossary of Terms. Available at Accessed May 12, 2020.