Children today are only one-quarter as active as their grandparents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
At a time when concerns about childhood obesity abound, it’s important to make physical activity part of the daily routine. Begin incorporating physical activity into daily life in the preschool years and you’ll set the stage for a lifetime of healthy habits.
Activities should be both fun and age-appropriate. Preschoolers need play and exercise that help them continue to develop motor skills, such as kicking or throwing a ball, playing tag or follow the leader, riding a tricycle or bicycle with training wheels, freeze dance, hopping on one foot or running obstacle courses.
While some sports leagues may be open to children as young as four, organized teams are generally not recommended until children are a little older. Preschoolers frequently lack the attention span, skills and coordination needed to play team sports, and doing so can lead to frustration. Instead, young children should work on fundamental skills.
Some simple ideas:
Take the dog for a brisk walk. If you don’t have one of your own, ask to borrow a neighbor’s or friend’s dog and take it for a walk.
Create a scavenger hunt on a walk in your own neighborhood. Make a list of things to look for: a blue house, a red car, the number 12 on a mailbox. Not only does it make your walk more interesting, you can reinforce concepts about colors and numbers.
Dance around the house. Got the rainy day blues? Crank up the tunes and dance around the house. If you have a smartphone or video camera, create a dance video to enjoy together later.
Turn family time into a physically active time by going on a weekend hike instead of heading to the movie theater. Or, play tag, toss a ball in the park, or go fly a kite.
Practice what you preach. Be a model of fitness for your children. Whether you follow a structured fitness program or do some simple morning stretches, let your children see you moving and they’ll likely be inspired to do the same.
Some other things to remember:
- Children should wear hats, sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and appropriate footwear when playing outdoors.
- Encourage children to drink plenty of water.
- Balance out an active lifestyle with a healthy diet by limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt.
Exercise should be fun and something your child looks forward to doing. Whatever you choose, spending time together doing physical activities is definitely a win-win.
From the American Heart Association:
- All children age 2 and older should participate in at least 30 minutes of enjoyable, moderate-intensity physical activities every day. These activities should be developmentally appropriate and varied.
- If your child does not have a full 30-minute activity break each day, try to provide at least two 15-minute periods or three 10-minute periods in which they can engage in vigorous activities appropriate for their age, gender and stage of physical and emotional development. Any concerns about your child’s physical or overall health should be discussed with their pediatrician.