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Active for Life

Woman walking through the woods with her dog in the fallBeing active is important for the health, wellness and quality of life for everyone at every age! Active parents are great role models for their kids.

It’s important to know what is comfortable and not to overdo it – especially if you have just had a baby.

Every new activity comes with a new challenge. Over time, your body gets used to the activity and will be ready for new challenges.

Active for Life is where parents can go to learn how to improve the health and happiness of their kids:
There are right ways and right times to learn the basic movement and sport skills that are good for kids for their whole lives.
Learning these basic movement and sports skills is called becoming ‘physically literate’.
Use the Active for Life matrix slider to find out more about becoming physically literate.

Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults 18 – 64 Years

To achieve health benefits, adults aged 18-64 years should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
It is also beneficial to add muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups, at least 2 days per week. More physical activity provides greater health benefits.

Let’s Talk Intensity!

Moderate-intensity physical activities will cause adults to sweat a little and to breathe harder. Activities like:

  • brisk walking
  • bike riding

Vigorous-intensity physical activities will cause adults to sweat and be ‘out of breath’. Activities like:

  • jogging
  • cross-country skiing

Being active for at least 150 minutes per week can help reduce the risk of:

  • premature death
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • high blood pressure
  • certain types of cancer
  • type 2 diabetes
  • osteoporosis
  • overweight and obesity

And can lead to improved:

  • fitness
  • strength
  • mental health (morale and self–esteem)

Pick a Time. Pick a Place. Make a Plan and Move More!

  • Join a weekday community running or walking group.
  • Go for a brisk walk around the block after dinner.
  • Take a dance class after work.
  • Bike or walk to work every day.
  • Rake the lawn, and then offer to do the same for a neighbour.
  • Train for and participate in a run or walk for charity!
  • Take up a favourite sport again or try a new sport.
  • Be active with the family on the weekend!

Getting Started

If physical activity is new to you, start slowly.  Two 15 minute walks with baby in a stroller or cloth carrier is great. You can also “sneak” activity into your daily routine:

  • Go for a walk after lunch or dinner.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park in a central location and then walk to do your errands.
  • Do housework at a faster pace.
  • Use a push mower to mow the lawn. Rake the drawing of a woman checking her posture against a wallleaves!
  • Walk around the house while talking on the phone.

Back Care and Posture

Posture is the position in which you hold your body. Good posture is important for standing, sitting and lying. Good posture means you put the least strain on your body during movement or weight-bearing activities. This helps prevent straining the supporting muscles and ligaments.

Check your Posture:

  • Hold your head up straight with your chin in. Do not tilt your head.
  • Your earlobes should be in line with the middle of your shoulders.
  • Keep your shoulder blades back.
  • Keep your chest forward.
  • Keep your knees straight but not stiff.
  • Stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling.
  • Tuck your stomach in. Do not tilt your pelvis forward or backward.
  • The arches in your feet should feel supported.

With Baby

  • When picking up baby, put one foot in front of the other and bend your knees. Maintain normal back curves.
  • When carrying baby, stretch up as tall as possible, keeping shoulders back and down. Maintain normal back curves. DO NOT arch your back!
  • When pushing stroller, do not lean against the handle with your stomach. Stand up straight and use your arms to push it.

Around the House

  • Dusting, cleaning, painting: When working on low areas, bend your knees. Be sure to maintain correct posture.
  • General picking up or moving: Bend your knees and maintain correct posture. Hold the load close to your body. When turning with a load, move your feet instead of twisting your body.

Just for Women

  • All women can start pelvic floor exercises (or Kegel exercises) and pelvic tilts right after birth. This may reduce the risk of future bladder problems.
  • If you had a vaginal birth, you can do most types of activities and exercise. You may need to take activity in shorter bursts. You may also need to lower the intensity for a while.
  • If you have had a Caesarean birth slowly increase your activity. Walking is a good way to start. For most women, you should not do strenuous activity for at least 6 weeks after birth. Talk about this with your health-care provider at your 6-week postpartum check-up.
  • Listen to your body and go at your own pace. When your body is ready, physical activity can help your body recover from some of the changes experienced during pregnancy and delivery.
  • If you are breastfeeding wear a firm support bra. Breastfeed your baby before you exercise. Some babies don’t like the taste of sweat so you may need to shower before breastfeeding.

Ready to be More Active?

If you are planning on starting an exercise program, in addition to an active lifestyle, you should discuss it with your health-care provider.

This is the sequence we recommend for any physical activity.

Warm Up

  • The warm up increases heart and breathing rates. It lets the muscles warm up and get ready to do more intense activity.
  • Slow walking is a great way to warm up. Add some shoulder rolls and arm circles to increase circulation.
  • Take baby with you while maintaining good posture.

Aerobic Activities

  • These activities are good for your heart, lungs and circulation.
  • They are activities done for at least 10 to 15 minutes without a break.
  • Start easy and gradually increase your activity. Your current fitness level will affect the intensity of the activity.
  • If you cannot talk during activity, you have reached a level that will help your body become more fit.

Strength Activities

  • Strength activities work against resistance to strengthen muscles and bones and improve posture.
  • They are important at any stage of your life.

Cool Down

  • During the cool down, you should lay your baby where you can see each other. This lets you talk to your baby and comfort him or her.
  • Your body has to make the transition gradually from hot to warm to cool. The exercises that you did to warm up are also good for cooling down.
  • You can further enhance it by learning how to consciously relax.

Any exercise can cause a strain if it is not done properly. If an exercise hurts, stop doing it. Switch to a different exercise.


Being mentally and physically relaxed is good for everyone. Relaxation is an easy and simple tool for relieving stress. Consider all the situations in your life where you can use stress relief.

  • Relaxation starts with breathing.
  • Sit back comfortably and close your eyes.
  • Take a slow deep breath.
  • Blow it out slowly.
  • Now breathe slowly and evenly for two or three minutes, staying focussed on your breathing.
  • Think about relaxing all the muscles in your body.
  • This may be the same as the breathing you learned in prenatal class.

Toning, Flexibility & Strength at Home

These activities can be done with baby.


Pelvic Floor (Kegel) Exercise

This exercise helps to tone the muscles of the pelvic floor. They help prevent problems with bladder control. They can be done in any position.
One way to know if you are using the correct muscles is to stop the flow of urine, while you are on the toilet.

  • Tighten as if stopping urine.
  • Now tighten slowly to as tight as you can.
  • Hold for a few seconds.
  • Now let those muscles slowly relax.
  • Do this often all through the day. When a commercial comes on the TV, do a Kegel. When you are driving and come to a stop sign, do a Kegel.

Pelvic Tilt

drawing of a woman doin ga pelvic tiltThis exercise is excellent for the tummy and back.

  • Lie on your back on the floor with knees bent and feet flat. There should be a small space between the small of your back and the floor.
  • Take a deep breath, allowing the tummy to rise.
  • As you breathe out, draw tummy muscles gently toward your back.
  • Your back should press into the floor.

You can also do this sitting and standing. Standing you should have the same space behind the small of your back as when lying down.

Curl Ups

  • drawing of a woman doing curl ups with her baby on her tummyLay on your back with knees bent and feet flat.
  • Stretch your arms toward your knees and tighten your abdominal muscles.
  • Keep your chin tucked in (do not bend neck forward) and lift your head and shoulders off the floor.
  • Hold for 3 seconds, slowly uncurl, and relax.
  • Gradually increase to 2 sets of 10 repetitions. As your muscles get stronger, reach right hand to left knee, and alternate.
  • To make this exercise more challenging, try raising your upper back off the floor.
  • Also try these with baby sitting on your tummy.


Gentle reaching, bending and stretching help you to stay flexible. They keep your muscles relaxed. They also keep your joints mobile. Stretching also helps relieve muscle tension all over the body. Hold stretches 20-30 seconds each.

Backward Shoulder Circles

Stand up nice and tall. Slowly roll your shoulders backwards. Continue this motion until tension goes away.

Hamstring Stretch

  • drawing of a woman doing a hamstring stretch with her baby next to herLay baby on the floor within arm’s reach.
  • Sit with one leg bent, as in the cross leg position, and one leg straight.
  • Keep your shoulders back and back straight.
  • Bend at the hips and reach towards your calf or your ankle on the straight leg.
  • Your will feel a stretch in your hamstrings (back of thigh).
  • You do not need to touch your toes to feel the stretch.

Calf Stretch

  • drawing of a woman doing a calf stretch with her baby in her armsHold baby close to your body.
  • Take a big step forward.
  • Put your foot down and bend your knee.
  • Push the heel of your back foot into the floor.
  • Hold and repeat.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Kneeling Lunge

  • drawing of a woman doing a kneeling lunge with her baby in front of herPut baby on the floor in front of you.
  • Kneel on your right knee.
  • Bend your left knee with your foot on the floor.
  • Reach your hands to your left ankle.
  • Do not allow your knee to pass over your foot.
  • Do this several times, and then switch sides.
  • With time you may be able to put your hands flat on the floor.


  • This relaxes the muscles of the upper back.
  • Stand up straight. Your feet should be about as far apart as your shoulders.
  • Keep your knees slightly bent.
  • Cross your arms.
  • Slowly bend from the waist.
  • Let your crossed arms dangle.
  • Slowly come back up.


  • Do these exercises slowly for the best effect.
  • Use small weights to increase the effectiveness. If you do not have weights, a can of soup in each hand will work well.

Biceps Curl

  • Stand or sit with your hands at your sides, with the palms facing forward.
  • Slowly bend your elbow until your hand is at your shoulder.
  • Slowly lower your hand to its original position and then repeat.
  • When you feel comfortable add weights.

Triceps Press

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. You can also sit for this exercise.
  • Raise your hands slowly backwards as far as possible.
  • Slowly lower.
  • When you feel comfortable add weights.

Overhead Raise

  • Stand with your elbows bent and your hands at shoulder height.
  • Slowly lift your hands overhead.
  • Slowly lower.
  • When you feel comfortable add weights.


Active for Life (online), 2016
American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (online) 2015
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (online), 2012  2015
Mayo Clinic (online) 2016

Physical Activity for the Early Years 0-4 years

  • Infants (less than 1 year old) should be physically active several times daily – they can do this playing on the floor with other people and/or toys.
  • Toddlers (1-2 years old) and preschoolers (3-4 years old) should get at least 180 minutes of physical activity a day.

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for the Early Years 0-4 years


For healthy growth and development:

  • Infants (aged less than 1 year) should be physically active several times daily – particularly through interactive floor-based play.
  • Toddlers (aged 1–2 years) and preschoolers (aged 3–4 years) should accumulate at least 180 minutes of physical activity at any intensity spread throughout the day, including:
    • A variety of activities in different environments;
    • Activities that develop movement skills;
    • Progression toward at least 60 minutes of energetic play by 5 years of age.
  • More daily physical activity provides greater benefits.

Being active as an infant means:

  • Tummy time.
  • Reaching for or grasping balls or other toys.
  • Playing or rolling on the floor.
  • Crawling around the home.

Being active as a toddler or preschooler means:

  • Any activity that gets kids moving.
  • Climbing stairs and moving around the home.
  • Playing outside and exploring their environment.
  • Crawling, brisk walking, running or dancing.

The older children get, the more energetic play they need, such as hopping, jumping, skipping and bike riding.

Being active can help young kids:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Improve movement skills.
  • Increase fitness.
  • Build healthy hearts.
  • Have fun and feel happy.
  • Develop self-confidence.
  • Improve learning and attention.

All activity counts. Try these tips to get young kids moving:

  • Create safe spaces for play.
  • Play music and learn action songs together.
  • Dress for the weather and explore the outdoors.
  • Make time for play with other kids.
  • Get where you’re going by walking or biking.

Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years 0-4 years

For healthy growth and development, caregivers should minimize the time infants (aged less than 1 year), toddlers (aged 1–2 years) and preschoolers (aged 3–4 years) spend being sedentary during waking hours. This includes prolonged sitting or being restrained (e.g., stroller, high chair) for more than one hour at a time.

For those under 2 years, screen time (e.g., TV, computer, electronic games) is not recommended.

For children 2–4 years, screen time should be limited to under one hour per day; less is better.

The lowdown on the slowdown: What counts as being sedentary.

Sedentary behaviours are those that involve very little physical movement while children are awake, such as sitting or reclining:

  • In a stroller, high chair or car seat
  • Watching television
  • Playing with non-active electronic devices such as video games, tablets, computers or phones.

Spending less time being sedentary can help young kids:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Develop social skills.
  • Behave better.
  • Improve learning and attention.
  • Improve language skills.

To reduce young children’s sedentary time, you can:

  • Limit use of playpens and infant seats when baby is awake.
  • Explore and play with your child.
  • Stop during long car trips for playtime.
  • Set limits and have rules about screen time.
  • Keep TVs and computers out of bedrooms.
  • Take children outside every day.