Physical activity and exercise are important at every age and are essential for life long health and fitness. It’s especially important to motivate your child early to build good exercise habits.
While physical activity generally needs to be age specific, even toddlers and preschoolers can benefit from parental planning and encouragement to develop motor skills through self-play and active games both at home as well as the local park and other activity or exercise centers.
Early activity fosters fundamental skill development – running, skipping, hopping, jumping, catching and throwing all build strength, flexibility, endurance, co-ordination and balance along with independence and a sense of self. Children also learn proprioception, motor control, core stabilization, social skills and co-operation with others.
Many children do not get the recommended amount of daily exercise – it’s important to know that children ages 6 years and older need a full 1 hour of physical exercise each day as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
By this age, they may have already developed specific sport activities they want to devote most time doing like running, bicycling, volleyball, soccer, swimming, gymnastics, and dance - all great activities that should be encouraged when interest is heightened. Otherwise, a mix of activities may be put together by and with parents, schools, recreational facilities.
Here are some other suggestions for how to motivate your young and older children to become more physically active, and ensure happy and healthy childhood development!
- Check with your child’s physician with questions about your child’s health and/or developmental capabilities. A Physical Therapy referral will be helpful for gross and fine motor skill development. Remember: early intervention is important!
- Plan ahead! Schedule play and activity time at home, park, playground, through a “play group”, pool, or fitness facility that provides movement programs for kids. Building a routine helps solidify these habits at a young age.
- Be an active role model for your child! Children who see their parents exercise are generally more likely to want to exercise. Exercise together – your running buddy may be your child in a jogging stroller. Going to the gym? Take your child with you to a class for intro to developmental skills by a trained professional.
- Exercise with your child, and when possible, involve grandparents! What a win/win way to bond and influence positive fitness behaviors. Young children enjoy using small, active toys while children 6 years and older may want to share a walk, walk/run, bike, play basketball or dance.
- Exercise at home. Turn off the TV, video games, computers, iPhone, etc, and turn on the music and dance. This is something the whole family can do regardless of age: whatever feels good, just MOVE! Jump, squat, arms up, down, bend your torso forward, back, sideways and twist. Begin with 15 – 20 minutes and build to 30 – 45 minutes – think Jazzercize! Another option: when watching TV get up and move every time a commercial comes on for the entire commercial: sit ups, pushups, hopping, jumping, marching, even old-school calisthenics!
- Walk the dog together with your younger children. Older children may take the dog by themselves.
- Limit TV time. Take a pre- or post-dinner walk with your child. Enjoy conversation. Get out and move before finishing homework or bedtime. Gear-down from a “mind-boggling” day will promote mental relaxation and restful sleep time – much needed for everyone!
- Hydrate with water only. Active bodies need plain water for best hydration, so eliminate carbonated beverages, sports drinks or fruit juices as much as possible for exercise. All of these beverages have way too much sugar and can actually impede hydration.
- Check out organized activities. Walk/run a race for charity (like the Crescent City Levee Kids’ Run!), volunteer with children at a charity, school or other community event – help set up or hand out water. This type of experience is great for all ages and motivational for children to see big groups of people exercising and donating their time to benefit others!
- Above all else: enjoy the movement and have FUN with your child!