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Tell Your Kids To Play Outside Till They’ve Walked 12,000 Steps

Canadian kids (and adults) are steeped in an epidemic of sedentariness – not just those with excess weight are not moving enough – no one is!

So, while clinicians may be familiar with the recommendation for adults to aim for 10,000 steps a day (an ambitious goal by most standards), step recommendations for kids are less clear.

This issue was now addressed by CON Bootcamper Rachel Colley and colleagues from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario – their findings were just published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Using accelerometer and pedometer data collected on children and youth aged 6-19 years (n = 1,613) in the Canadian Health Measures Survey the researchers complete correlation analyses of daily step counts and minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) by age and sex.

It turns out that the daily step count equivalent to 60 minutes of MVPA is about 12,000 steps per day (range 11,290 and 12,512). This is slightly lower than the 13,500 steps that have been previously recommended as a target for children and youth.

In a word to both researchers and clinicians, the authors propose that 12,000 steps per day (as assessed by a pedometer or accelerometer) be used as a target to determine whether children and youth aged 6-19 years are meeting the current physical activity guideline of 60 minutes of daily MVPA.

While this number is reassuring to know, it is unlikely to change much unless parents actually do start sending their kids outdoors to kick around the neighbourhood till the lights come on.

I am not sure the kids would mind – but this generation of ridiculously overprotective ‘helicopter parents’ will probably lose sleep over the very idea of letting their kids be kids.

Edmonton, Alberta

Colley RC, Janssen I, & Tremblay MS (2011). Daily Step Target to Measure Adherence to Physical Activity Guidelines in Children. Medicine and science in sports and exercise PMID: 22051570


  1. That’s all well and good to tell parents to send their kids outside to play, but you’re assuming that all parents live in places where it’s SAFE to let their kids play outside. Tell that to parents who live in places like Cabrini Green in Chicago, or any other place that has high crime related to drugs, prostitution, gangs, etc. Not everyone can afford to live in safe neighborhoods where their kids can play outside to get that amount of exercise, and poverty is known to be a huge factor in childhood obesity.

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  2. First, great that you are addressing all kids, versus simply the overweight ones; yes, all kids could benefit from regular exercise for fitness (barring those anorexic kids I see).
    I wish it were more simple than telling the helicopter parents to stop their hovering. Some inner city neighborhoods make safely playing an oxymoron. And in suburbia, kids no longer walk to school, and are often overscheduled. Families do little to role model healthy activity–it is rare that I see a family taking a hike or a bike ride other physical activity on the weekend. Unfortunately, it’ll take a lot more than pedometers to create change.

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  3. Hi there- I am a Registered Dietitian abnd usually enjoy these blurbs. However, I haven’t even read this one because I’m taken aback at the grammar! ie: till it’s(?) walked however many steps??? How about – have your kids play outside until they have done the same? or until he/she has done so. I am a stickler for this sort of thing.

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  4. I’m all for kicking the kids out of the house so that they can play outside (assuming one’s neighbourhood is reasonably safe). It’s what I spent most of my childhood doing.

    But a pedometer? Seriously? Seems like a bit of a killjoy. Anyway, it only measures steps, not peddling, skating, swinging, climbing or any of the other fun and creative ways children move.

    Incidentally, I was living proof that physically active kids aren’t necessarily going to be thin. However, I’m pretty sure that I owe a lot of the good health, physical confidence and coordination that I’ve enjoyed as an fat adult to having been an active fat kid. I agree 100% that free, creative play is important for kids of all sizes.

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  5. I agree with all the above commenters!

    Dr. Sharma, a child is either masculine or feminine in English. While children (and young women!) are neutral in German, in English, “it” can only be used for an inanimate object like a tree! Penny Laarveld’s suggestions are perfect.

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  6. Why the attack on parents? Having been a parent for the past 22 years with children currently between age 22 and 7, I can say I have met ONE set of so-called “helicopter parents.” They are rare.

    I’m noticing your posts taking on a fanatical air. I hope that you will find some objectivity soon, so that your work is not tainted by prejudice.

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  7. Speaking of grammar, I think DeeLeigh meant to write “pedaling” (as in riding a bike), not “peddling” (as in selling).

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  8. Thank you Dr. Sharma. Thank you so much for your considering my comment. I did and will continue to appreciate your valuable website! I have only one other ‘beef’ however, and that is with the Sept.9/11 posting: ‘Should we outsource Obesity treatment to Weight Watchers?’ You suggest that ‘I would also not be surprised if Weight Watchers has perhaps done more to educate people on healthy eating than anyone else.’ Of course I am biased but I know I and my many, many colleagues across this country have done equally as much in Hospital , in Public Health, and privately as Weight Watchers has. Weight Watchers definitely is a valuable component but Dietitians have always been the ultimate authority with regard to healthy eating-therapeutically and with regard to ‘normal nutrition’ for the populace. I do hope you agree. Thanks for hearing my comments! Penny Laarveld; BSA; BSHEc.;R.D.

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  9. Look at old movies – kids swinging on swing sets, couples gliding arm in arm around a skating rink to music with no helmets on, a small child riding a tricycle without wearing a helmet …

    When I see the reckless way people lived I’m appalled. These movies and old TV shows should have parental warnings attached to warn viewers that these are dangerous and unacceptable activities. Parents should warm their children against any such unsafe, uncontrolled, and un regulated activity.

    Just talk to emergency room doctors about falls, broken bones, concussions, sprains, etc that have resulted from these activities.

    Professionals can direct children and adults to appropriate exercise classes and equipment that provide proper muscle development with as little risk as possible.

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  1. Dr. Rachel Colley Publishes New Paper on Daily Step Count Target | Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group - [...] Influential blogger, Arya Sharma, discussed the paper today on his blog. His blog post can be read here. [...]

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