According to the CDC (2004), 62% of children participate in vital physical activity, such as basketball, soccer, running, or swimming, for at least 20 minutes 3 or more days a week. Only 24% of children participate in moderate physical activity such as walking or bike riding. Considering that childhood physical activity habits persist into adulthood, and physical activity tend to decrease during adolescence, it is imperative for parents to teach their children to be physically active – surprisingly, this should start in infancy.
When your child's umbilical cord falls off, it's time to start incorporating daily exercise into your child's routine. Start placing your infant on her belly after waking up, diaper changes, and feedings. These belly-time sessions should always be supervised and last about 5-10 minutes. Your infant will let you know when she has had enough. Please note that at night your infant should be placed on her back. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that during the first year of life, infants sleep on their backs with a pacifier in their mouths to reduce their risk of sudden infant syndrome (SIDS).
Older infants can "exercise" by practicing their motor skills, such as grabbing objects (4 months) and reaching for them (6 months), pulling herself up to stand, cruising, crawling (9 months), and walking and running. Interact with your child. Show interest in her activities and set up a good example by playing with her.
Children younger than 2 years of age should not watch television. Ideally, those older than 2 years should not watch any either, but 1-2 hours of carefully selected programs would be acceptable for anyone over the age of 2 years.
Television should never be used as a "babysitter," and your child should not have a TV in her room. If she does, with time, you'll lose control of what and how much TV your child watches. Having a TV set in the bedroom will promote your child's sedentary behavior and promote overweight. A television set should be located in a central location so that the whole family may view selected programs together. This also applies to computers and video games.
Our society is not designed to promote physical activity, especially with the popularity of TV and video games. Therefore, we should take control and incorporate it into our daily lives. Consider these tips:
1. Schedule daily family walks. If it is difficult to get motivated, get a dog or borrow one from a neighbor.
2. Assign your child age-appropriate chores that require physical activity: yard work (leaf raking, snow shoveling) and housework (vacuuming). Do not just sit by and watch, though, get involved yourself!
3. Encourage your child to ride a bike or roller blade every day for at least 30 minutes (a helmet is a must!)
4. When going to the store, park your car as far away as possible. The extra walk is worth it.
5. Support your child's participation in group sports.
6. Schedule fun weekend activities like taking a hike in the woods, going camping, going to a picnic in the park, or having a badminton tournament in your back yard.
7. Some children are not the "sports" type. Creativity is an excellent brain workout, but we can not forget to exercise our bodies. Have your creative child design and build a kite to fly. Have a child who loves to help you cook? Have them plant an herb garden.
8. Try more creative physical activities like yoga, indoor rock climbing, etc.
9. Play a game! Twister, Duck Duck Goose, Red Rover, or Tag are great physical games.
10. If you must let your child play video games, the Nintendo Wii incorporates physical movement as well. But do not forget to limit your child's time on the Wii as well. A trip to the park with fresh air and sunshine will not only get you moving, but it will boost your energy and mood as well.