Physical activity guidelines for the early years

Physical activity guidelines for the early years

For the first time the physical activity guidelines, published in July 2011, include recommendations for the amount of physical activity the under-fives should be doing. This reflects a growing awareness of the importance of physical activity for this age group and follows the lead of other major countries.

The guidelines are relevant to all children under the age of five irrespective of gender, race or socioeconomic status, but should be interpreted with consideration for individual physical and mental capabilities.


Physical activity guidelines for the under fives


  • Physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor-based play and water-based activities in safe environments.
  • Children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day.
  • All under fives should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (being restrained or sitting) for extended periods (except time spent sleeping).


These guidelines are designed to help early years professionals and practitioners understand the type and amount of physical activity under fives should do to benefit their health. 


Support and dissemination


We have produced a number of resources which are designed to provide early years practitioners and health professionals with practical tips on using the physical activity guidelines effectively.


Two information booklets are available one with advice for physical activity with infants who cannot yet walk and one for walkers. They provide information on the importance of physical activity for children in the early years and appropriate types of activity as well as tips for reducing sedentary behaviour.

Download: UK physical activity guidelines for early years - non walkers

Download: UK physical activity guidelines for early years - walkers


Information leaflets for parents are also available. These provide tips on how parents can incorporate physical activity into daily activities as well as the types of activity their child needs. There is a leaflet with ideas for activities with babies who cannot yet walk and one for young children who can.

Download: Help your baby move and play every day

Download: Help your child move and play every day 


For professionals and practitioners who require a more detailed review of the evidence base available for physical activity and the early years, we have produced the early years evidence briefing. This includes detailed information on physical and psychological health outcomes of physical activity, current levels, measurement and implications for practice.

Download: Physical activity for the early years evidence briefing


This practice briefing is designed to give practitioners and managers of early years settings practical ideas for promoting physical activity with the under fives.The recommendations in the briefing are based on research evidence and recognise that early years practitioners, as well as parents and carers, can strongly influence the physical activity opportunities available to young children.

Download: Early years - Practical strategies for promoting physical activity


Public Health England

Public Health England is committed to disseminating the physical activity guidelines to the public via activity/healthcare professionals. An infographic for professionals has been developed which presents the early years physical activity guidelines simply and visually. 

Download: Physical activity for early years infographic


Department of Health

To support these guidelines the Department of Health has produced factsheets summarising the guidelines for this age group.

Download Factsheet 1: Early years (under 5s not yet walking)

Download Factsheet 2: Early years (under 5s capable of walking)



Start4Life has a range of tools and ideas to help get children under three years old more active. For further information visit


NHS Choices

NHS Choices is the country's biggest health website and provides information to allow people to make choices about their health. For NHS Choices' information about physical activity in the early years visit