How Active Should Toddlers Be? Experts Explain Just How Much Physical Activity Your Kid Needs

Let's be honest: Toddlers are killing it in the zest-for-life department. My husband Dan and I are prone to wistfully saying, "If only we had that much energy ..." as we watch our daughter Claire animatedly talk about everything, excitedly shriek at every outdoor discovery, or simply run laps around our dining room table. She seemingly never stops — and she does it all with what appears to be joy (or at least a manic state of exhaustion). But what are the guidelines for how active toddlers should be? Claire plays outside regularly, attends playdates, takes swim class twice a week, goes to ballet on Saturdays, and can have a dance party like no other, but I have no idea if there is some sort of quota we are supposed to be meeting. Our goal is always to just incorporate multiple activities into our day.

"Activity levels for toddlers can be very dependent on the personality of the child," Heidi McBain, a Texas-based licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Romper in an email interview. "Some kids are more extroverted and social and like to be around others, interacting and playing, while other kids are more introverted and shy and would rather sit on their mom’s lap and observe the world around them."

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That being said, McBain notes that if you don’t feel like your toddler is hitting the “normal” milestones your doctor has provided you with, then this might warrant a trip to see them just to rule out any bigger issues.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, research indicates that 2 to 5-year-olds should engage in two or more hours per day of physical activity. "Many children less than 5 years of age fail to meet the physical activity Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guide of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day​," the website noted. Sedentary activity for young children has been shown to range from 32.8 to 56.3 minutes per hour.

"Toddlers should be quite active, as young children learn how to navigate the world around them as well as how to regulate their bodies and self-regulate their emotions through the sensory and physical world," Dr. Rita Eichenstein, a pediatric neuropsychologist who specializes in child development, tells Romper in an email interview. "It is enormously important that toddlers be given as wide a range of sensory experiences as possible."

Eichenstein says ideas for activities with your toddler include climbing, sand play, water play, playing at the playground, and experiences in the natural world, such as running barefoot in the grass, building a snowman, and nature walks and exploration.

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"As our world becomes more constricted, it is important to build in these activities and not to naturally assume that toddlers will find these experiences on their own," she says. "Many toddlers with an 'over abundance of energy' are really toddlers who need more interaction with their physical world, more movement and more sensory experiences."

Eichenstein says being buckled in car seats, having to sit quietly at restaurants, and other constricted physical experiences are not developmental experiences for toddlers, nor are passive educational iPad apps or television shows. "Only through physical play does the young child begin to build a base for future enrichment," she notes. "And movement is fun!" Exercising, moving, and playing with your toddler will keep their activity levels in check, Eichenstein says. "Music and props also help encourage dancing, moving, and self expression."

KidsHealth noted that playgroups are also a solid way to score your toddler some active time. Plus, you'll reap the benefits of meeting other parents with similarly aged children. And if all else fails, take it from me: Running laps around the dining room table with your kid is a surefire way to tire both of you out.