As adults we are constantly bombarded with the message to exercise regularly but what about our kids? Well, while we certainly don’t condone making our little ones don sweat bands and lycra, and start pumping iron just yet, we definitely encourage all children - whatever their level of ability - to participate in active play.
Children have an inherent desire to move, and play and most importantly have fun! Luckily these are the perfect ingredients for the recipe we call exercise. Exercise and physical activity is essential for little bodies. From day one movement has a vital role in optimising health and growth.
Exercise can help to:
- encourage optimal weight
- aid bone and muscle growth and strength
- provide interaction with others and help develop children social skills
- optimise brain development
- develop coordination, balance and movement patterns
- enable interaction with the environment, helping to boost self confidence, and the independence that comes from skill mastery.
The National Physical Activity Recommendation Guidelines for children 1-5 years is 180 minutes of exercise a day. Yes, three hours sure does sound like a lot considering all of the other activities that go on within a family over a 24 hour period but we assure you - this is achievable!
When we think of exercise we may picture dedicated time spent playing sport or sweating over a treadmill. Luckily exercise for our kids in this age group exercise can be considered as any light to moderate to vigorous activity. Exercise can simply include parking the car a little further from preschool or appointments for a short amble, encouraging your child to get out of the pram during the shopping to walk for a while, simple play activities such as dress ups and hide and seek, or even putting on some fun music for an impromptu dance concert in the lounge room. In other words - simple, easy active play adds up to an active day.
Recommendations suggest children of this younger age group do not have their activity restrained for longer than one hour at a time (of course excluding sleeping), so be sure to also break up long car trips or pram rides with frequent active breaks.
Exercise can happen at any time and anywhere - no special equipment required. In fact some of the best items for active play are those easily found around the home - think boxes, pots and pans, and obstacle courses from household items. And if birthday gifts are on the agenda, presents encouraging active play such as balls, hoops, streamers, balloons, kites and bubbles are not only fun but, when used safely, are a great start to encouraging healthy exercise habits for life.
So, where to start?
Babies - 0-12 months
At this age physical activity is crucial in early skill development. Safe and supervised floor time activity including frequent tummy time positioning is a great way to start. As your baby grows, play involving reaching for objects, pushing and pulling games, gentle movement to music and some hands on play at bath time are a terrific starting point.
Toddlers (1-3 years) and Preschoolers (3-5 years)
Most parents will agree children of this age group will rarely sit still, are constantly playing and are keen to participate in active games.
Games such as pretending to walk like different animals (waddle like a penguin, slither along the ground like a snake or walk on all fours like a bear) are fantastic imaginative strengthening activities which can be performed easily around the house.
Outdoor play also provides excellent opportunities for development. Activities such as walking barefoot on different surfaces such as dirt, concrete and grass; spending time in the sand pit, and engaging in “messy play” (think mud pies and water fights) are fantastic opportunities to interact with elements within the environment to not only exercise little bodies but to develop important sensory processing abilities as well.
Trips to the park are terrific choice if accessible (and are basically a kids gym membership paid for!). Also, try and add in variety when able by visiting different parks - this is a great way to expand your child’s exposure to as many different physical and sensory challenges as possible.
The main thing to remember is that 180 minutes of exercise equates to short periods of activity performed across the day - that is, exercise is cumulative; it does not need to be performed all at once it just requires a little mindfulness to incorporate it into the day.
It is not necessary for us to stand rigidly over our kids with stop watches, clipboards and whistles like coaches but rather simply encourage and provide opportunity for fun snippets of movement here and there which add up to an active day and ultimately an active lifestyle for now and into the future - no lycra required.
For more information and resources to get your little people moving, please contact Swan Hill Kids Therapy.
Australian Government Department of Health (2010, Oct 1) National Physical Activity Guidelines for 0-5 year olds. Retrieved from http://health.gov.au