toddler running
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How much exercise do toddlers need?

It’s no secret that toddlers have an endless amount of energy. They always seem to be running (often from you), jumping on furniture, climbing stairs, throwing balls, and even using your body as a jungle gym. And while this constant movement might leave you exhausted and in need of a sitter just so you can take a nap, providing daily opportunities for structured and unstructured exercise is an essential part of a two-year-old’s health and well-being.  

Amount of exercise

According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, toddlers from 12 to 36 months old should be getting at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity a day. Structured physical activity refers to planned exercise like swimming or going for a walk. Additionally, they should engage in at least 60 minutes to several hours per day of unstructured physical activity. On top of that, toddlers shouldn’t be still for more than 60 minutes at a time in a stroller or car seat, except for when they’re sleeping.

Benefits of exercise

The physical benefits of exercise for toddlers include stronger muscles and bones, a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, and lower chances of becoming overweight. Additionally, staying active can help your child’s mood and overall behavior. Physical activity has been shown to help kids handle emotional challenges, increase their confidence, improve their self-esteem, and help them sleep better. And as an added bonus, exercising with your child will allow them to see you making healthy choices and enjoying fitness as part of your daily routine. Kids who grow up with fitness as a family priority tend to stay active throughout their lives. 

Type of exercise

Watch any toddler run around a playground and you’ll likely see movement that incorporates endurance, strength, and flexibility. Parents should expose their toddlers to age-appropriate activities that help improve these skills, while also giving little ones the opportunity to develop gross motor skills (development that involves the larger, stronger muscle groups of the body).  

By age two, toddlers should be able to run fairly well, jump with feet together, kick a ball, squat to play, stand on tiptoes, begin to ride a tricycle, use ride-on toys, throw and catch a ball, and jump down and forwards (some from the bottom step).  

Exercise at this age should involve independent time for toddlers to explore their interests, as well as participating in family games and activities. Having age-appropriate equipment available to your toddler, including balls of various sizes, fabric tunnels to crawl through, push toys, riding vehicles, tricycles, and balance bikes for more advanced tots can help keep active play fresh and exciting. The following activities will help your toddler rack up the required minutes while having a whole lot of fun! 

  • Walking: Long walks or runs are a great way for parents and caregivers to get their exercise in with child in tow, but you should also plan for a few “toddler walk breaks” during your workout. Try stopping every 15 minutes and letting him out of the stroller or carrier to explore. Yes, it will slow down your pace, but it allows them to get the wiggles out and get in the habit of walking next to you.
  • Swimming: Pool time with a family member introduces your toddler to the wonders of swimming and sets the foundation for learning water safety.
  • Yoga: You and Baby can practice simple poses at home or consider taking a Mommy and Me class.
  • Toddler class: Tumbling, dance, intro to sports, swim lessons, etc.
  • Active games: Duck duck goose, follow the leader, freeze dance, and ring around the rosy are just a few age-appropriate games that encourage exercise.
  • Hiking: Take a nature hike in your yard or local park to collect rocks, leaves, and other treasures.
  • Scavenger and treasure hunts (indoor or outdoors): Make sure to spread the items out as far as possible for added exercise.
  • Obstacle course (indoor or outdoors): Create a safe obstacle course with common household and outdoor items and include activities such as climbing, jumping, and throwing. Try playing balloon tennis by taping a plastic spoon to the end of a paper plate for your tennis racket and blow up some balloons to act as the ball and hit the “ball” back and forth. Set up soccer goals, hop over buckets, race to the fence—the possibilities are endless. 

About the author:
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son. 

  • “Active Start–Physical Activity Guidelines for Children Birth to Five Years.” naeyc. National Association for Sport and Physical Education. May 2006. Retrieved July 10 2017.
  • “Toddler – Physical Activity.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved July 10 2017.
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