Canadian children and teens should spend no more than two hours a day sitting — including while watching TV or playing video games — outside of school time, new exercise guidelines say.

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Families could limit after school television, sedentary video gaming, texting and screen time and replace it with planned activities like building a snowman. ((iStock))

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology followed up on the physical activity guidelines it issued in January, issuing sedentary activity guidelines on Tuesday. It says mounting evidence supports the need to limit sedentary behaviour as a health issue distinct from getting people to move more.

Children and youth spend an average of 8.6 hours per day, or 62 per cent of their waking hours, being sedentary, the group noted.

It says that, in an ideal day, the majority of time should be spent engaging in light-intensity activity like helping prepare meals and washing dishes or skipping rope outdoors. The new guidelines say children and teens should spend about 25 per cent of the day seated, with the rest of the day spent pursuing moderate-intensity activities like cycling and vigorous-intensity activities like playing hockey.

"The guidelines say [to] teachers and parents, we need to break up sedentary time for our kids," said Kelly Murumets, president and CEO of Participaction, which endorses the guidelines. "If they're sitting, they need to stand. If they're standing, they need to move. If they're moving, they need to move a little more."

The new sedentary guidelines apply to children aged five to 11 and youth aged 12 to 17. The guidelines recommend they:

  • Limit recreational screen time to no more than two hours per day. Lower levels of sedentary time carry more health benefits.
  • Limit motorized transport such as travelling by car or bus, as well as extended sitting time and time spent indoors throughout the day.

Following the guidelines can help children and teens to maintain a healthy body weight, improve cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal fitness, academic achievement, self-esteem and social behaviours, research suggests. 

Murumets called it imperative to move more and sit less to avoid bankrupting the health of Canadian children.   

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Suggestions for parents, teachers and caregivers to help children reduce their sedentary time. ((Courtesy of CESP))