Physical Fitness for Tots

Physical Fitness for Tots

Is your preschooler spending too much time watching TV and not enough time running, jumping and climbing? Here's how to set your child on a healthier path.

By Diane Griffith, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

Do your preschooler a favor. Turn off the television - say bye-bye to the purple dinosaur, the blue dog and the yellow sponge - and step outside for a game of catch or tag.

Children who are physically inactive become inactive adults. Regular exercise improves bone health; builds endurance and muscle strength; lowers risk factors for serious health problems like heart disease, colon cancer and diabetes; keeps blood pressure in check and fosters self-esteem.

The American Heart Association recommends that toddlers get at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day and that preschoolers get at least 60. In addition, all children should get between 60 minutes and several hours per day of unstructured activity. Toddlers and preschoolers shouldn't (except, of course, while sleeping) be inactive for more than 60 minutes at a time.

Aerobic exercises (like running, jumping and chasing a ball) help develop your child's cardiovascular fitness. Strength and flexibility exercises (like climbing and stretching) help your child develop strong bones and muscles and improve your child's coordination.

Try the following games and exercises to get your children on their feet and having fun:

Exercises for toddlers:

  1. Tightrope walk
    • Place a piece of masking tape on the floor.
    • Walk together along the "tightrope."
    • Try to stay on the line. Walk backwards, forward and sideways.

    Result: Helps develop balance. Exercises foot muscles.

  1. Stretches
    • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Have your child follow your movements.
    • Move into a crouching position.
    • Stretch slowly upwards until you are standing. Stretch your hands over your head.
    • Lower your hands slowly to your sides.
    • Return to a crouching position and repeat.

    Result: Stretches entire body.

  1. Head, shoulders, knees and toes
    • Stand facing your child.
    • Slowly call out the names of each body part in the title, asking your child to touch each body part as you name it.
    • Once your child does this successfully, mix up the order of the body parts.
    • Quicken your pace.

    Result: Helps your child identify body parts. Also helps with flexibility and understanding the concepts of up, down, low and high.

Exercises for preschoolers:

  1. Jump and twist
    • Hold your child's hands as you jump together as high as you can.
    • Put as much spring into your jump as possible. Land with ankles and knees slightly bent.
    • Now jump with hands by your sides.
    • Twist feet and hips and pump arms from side to side.

    Result: Strengthens legs and improves circulation.

  1. Rock and roll
    • Sit on the floor and clasp your hands under your knees. Tell your child to do what you do.
    • Rock on your back and keep your hands tucked.
    • Don't rock on your shoulders - it will strain your neck and make rocking difficult.
    • After several repetitions, alternate to side-to-side rocking.

    Result: Stretches back and strengthens abdominal muscles.

  1. Mirror game
    • Tell your child to do exactly as you do, as if he or she were your reflection in the mirror.
    • Make slow movements. Take turns being the leader.
    • Make movements that require flexibility and exercise. Bend at the waist, stretch your hands overhead, stand on your tiptoes, do deep knee bends, run in place, etc.

    Result: Good for coordination - children must repeat what they see. This will help with writing skills when they are older. Also provides flexibility and aerobic activity.

Sources:

  • Toronto Public Health. Fun and physical activity. Accessed: 03/15/2010
  • American Heart Association. Exercise (physical activity) and children. Accessed: 03/15/2010
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical fitness in infants and toddlers. Accessed: 03/15/2010

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