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More play, less sitting helps children grow up healthy

Three young children playing outdoors with brightly painted hands.

Healthy kids need active play every day

June 6, 2019—To grow up healthy, how much play time, screen time and sleep should a young child get in a day?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has some crucial advice. In fact, it released new guidelines for kids under 5 earlier this year.

The takeaway from this review of scientific evidence: Children need to play more, sit less and get enough high-quality shuteye. Together, these three things can help kids:

  • Thrive physically and emotionally.
  • Avoid childhood obesity.
  • Reduce the risk of health problems later in life.

Here's what WHO advises for each age group under 5:

Under 1 year

  • Help your baby be active in a variety of ways. For example, get on the floor and play together—the more, the better. And give babies at least 30 minutes of tummy time (while awake) throughout the day.
  • Limit time in strollers, high chairs and packs. Your child shouldn't be restrained for more than one hour at a time.
  • Avoid screen time altogether.
  • When not actively playing, read or tell stories to your baby.
  • Your child needs 14 to 17 hours of sleep daily, including naps, until 3 months of age. Then aim for 12 to 16 hours a day.

1 to 2 years old

  • Your child needs at least three hours of active play each day. Some of this time should be spent on high-energy activities, like walking, running or using a playground.
  • Limit time in strollers, high chairs or packs. Your child shouldn't be restrained for more than one hour at a time. Don't let your child sit still for a long time either.
  • For 1 year olds, steer clear of screens entirely. For 2 year olds, keep screen time to no more than one hour a day—and less is better.
  • When your child is not actively playing, read or tell stories together.
  • Your child needs 11 to 14 hours of sleep daily, including naps. Try to keep sleep and wake-up times consistent.

3 to 4 years old

  • Your child needs at least three hours of active play each day. At least one hour should be spent on high-energy activities, like swimming, dancing or running around.
  • Limit time in strollers, high chairs or packs. Your child shouldn't be restrained for more than one hour at a time. Don't let your child sit still for a long time either.
  • Limit screen time to no more than one hour a day—and less is better.
  • When your child is not actively playing, read or tell stories together.
  • Your child needs 10 to 13 hours of sleep daily, including naps. Try to keep sleep and wake-up times consistent.
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