Take weekly bike rides with your second-grader or go on daily walks with your preschooler and, chances are, the drive to exercise will kick in for your kids. And now a new study shows that parents' physical activity levels during kids' earliest years might influence how active children are later.
After following the physical activity of nearly 5,500 11- to 12-year-olds for a week, researchers compared the kids' activity levels with information they'd gathered about things like the parents' activity levels during pregnancy and when their little ones were 21 months old.
They found that although few factors helped determine how active these preteens would be, kids were slightly more likely to be active if their moms had been active during pregnancy and if their parents had been active when their kids were nearing age 2.
But biology in the womb probably wasn't at play in influencing kids' later activity levels, say the researchers. Instead, it likely boils down to the fundamental fact that "active parents tend to raise active children."
What This Means to You
The number of overweight kids has more than doubled over the past 30 years. From infancy to the teen years, many kids miss out on physical activity that can help them:
- build strong muscles and bones
- maintain a healthy weight
- reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- possibly lower their blood pressure and blood cholesterol
- sleep better
- have a better outlook on life
- be more academically motivated, alert, and successful
- build their self-esteem
Here are some ways to encourage your tot to keep moving during those early years.
Infants need help nurturing their budding skills as they grow:
- Allow plenty of supervised "tummy time" while awake.
- Help them learn how to roll over by gently guiding them back and forth.
- Encourage reaching — and later, crawling - by placing enticing toys slightly out of reach.
- Support infants with your hands or prop a nursing pillow around their waist once they seem ready to sit up solo.
- Help them pull to stand once they can sit. From a sitting position, pull them up as you say, "One, two, THREE!" While standing, let them bounce a few times before lowering them back down.
- Teach action songs, like "Pat-A-Cake," "This Little Piggy," "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," and "Pop Goes the Weasel."
- Provide plenty of safe, childproofed opportunities to "cruise" along furniture.
- Hold their little hands gently over their heads and take leisurely strolls together to reinforce the concept of walking.
- Resist the urge to jump in when beginner walkers take a tumble. Let them learn how to push up, using the palms of their hands, to stand on their own.
- Don't keep babies in things that restrict their movement — like strollers, bouncy seats, swings, and car seats — too often.
Toddlers need at least an hour a day of unstructured (free play) activities like:
- using push and pull toys
- playing with shape sorters and building blocks
- pretending to be like Mom or Dad (vacuuming, using tools, cooking, etc.)
- using their imaginations (taking care of dolls, zooming cars, etc.)
- drawing with crayons
But toddlers also need at least half an hour of adult-led physical activities like:
- listening to music and dancing together
- holding their hands while you jump
- exploring and playing in the backyard or playground together
- climbing stairs and using climbing equipment
- playing ball
- taking a toddler movement class
- walking like a penguin or imitating other animals
- playing "Follow the Leader," "Ring Around the Rosy," and other similar games
Preschoolers need some independent playtime (about an hour) to choose their own activities (like painting and drawing, doing a puzzle, playing dress-up, etc.). But they also require at least an hour of organized play and exercise to help them develop important motor skills through activities like:
- kicking, catching, and throwing a ball
- hopping or balancing on one foot
- peddling a tricycle or bike
- tumbling and skipping
- running through obstacle courses
- playing "Tag," "Hide and Seek," "Follow the Leader," "Duck, Duck, Goose," "London Bridge," "I'm a Little Teapot," or "Simon Says"
- practicing basic skills — like jumping, throwing, skipping, and catching — at home rather than in organized sports, where they might not understand the rules and may lack the attention span, skills, and coordination needed
From infancy through preschool help your little one stay active — and safe — by:
- being active yourself — show your youngster the importance of regular exercise by making it a welcome part of your family's daily routine
- limiting screen time (TV, computer, and video games) — no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming and content for tots 2 and up
- supervise and provide a safe, childproof play area where your child has room be active and explore
- make it fun — instead of forcing certain activities, figure out what helps keep your kid moving and loving every minute of it
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2007
Source: "Early life determinants of physical activity in 11 to 12 year olds: cohort study," British Medical Journal, November 23, 2007.