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Parents urged to encourage freedom, play, as kids get D-minus for physical activity

With Canadian children still failing to meet key physical activity targets, a new report is stressing the benefits of outdoor play and urging adults to give kids more freedom.

ParticipAction’s latest annual Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, released Tuesday, gave Canadian kids a D-minus for overall physical activity for the third year in a row.

How much should kids exercise?

Most three- to four-year-olds met the early-years guidelines of at least 180 minutes of daily physical activity. But older children, who are recommended to have 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily, didn’t fare so well.

What counts as physical activity?

Moderate activities can include walking quickly, skating and biking, whereas vigorous ones include running, basketball and soccer. Regular walking is considered light-intensity activity.

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(Video: How to add more play time to your family’s life)

What about playing outdoors?

In a first for the report card, ParticipAction teamed with a leading research group and a dozen other organizations to develop a position statement advocating for active outdoor play.

“We’re certainly not suggesting that we expose kids to dangerous situations. But I think our society and our environments have gone [to] the extreme,” said Elio Antunes, president and CEO of ParticipAction. “Because we fear kids being alone playing outside, or we fear them scraping a knee, we constantly supervise kids [and] keep them indoors. And we know that kids indoors are less active and have higher levels of sedentary behaviour.”

In addition to improved bone health and reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, there are added mental and social benefits to being in nature, noted Mark Tremblay, the report card’s chief scientific officer. “You need to make decisions. You explore. There’s more creativity. You’re not being driven by a digital screen. You’re actually chasing a frog or climbing a tree or you’re exploring in the forest or you’re inventing a game in the park,” said Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.

What does the report recommend?


Encourage your children to engage more fully with their outdoor environments in a variety of weather conditions. When children are supported to take risks, they have more fun and learn how to assess and manage risk in all areas of their lives.


Regularly embrace the outdoors for learning, socialization and physical activity opportunities, in various weather conditions—including rain and snow. Risky active play is an important part of childhood and should not be eliminated from the school yard or childcare centre.


Recognize that children are competent and capable. Respect parents’ assessments of their children’s abilities and their decisions to encourage self-directed play in nature and the outdoors. Allow all children to play with and form a lasting relationship with nature on their own terms.

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