Monday, May 6, 2013

5 Ways to Encourage Your Toddler's Physical Fitness

Hey, didja know that May is National Physical Activity and Sports month? So perfect, I least up here in Michigan, the weather is FINALLY looking like Spring. The grass is green, the beach is cleared of its Winter sand dunes, flowers are coming up and so is the, I'm loving it.

It's like Mother Nature is encouraging outdoor physical activity and sports.

According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, "National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is a great time to spread the word about the benefits of getting active. Getting regular physical activity can benefit everyone—children, adolescents and adults alike." I mean, let's be honest, I talk about this all the time on Daily Dose. But as a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, I primarily speak to the older audience. And by "older," I refer to everyone not in diapers. But let's face it, our toddling counterparts need physical fitness, too.

But with tots, it's less about losing weight and gaining strength, it's more about setting a good example and encouraging them to find their own way of getting some physical fitness in their life (otherwise known as "having fun while moving"). Usually, they're pretty up for it. So, from one parent to another, and with all that I know about physical fitness, I give you 5 ways to encourage your toddler's physical fitness.

1) If they can walk, let them walk. The other day, I found myself struggling to juggle Hannah, her diaper bag, my gym bag and a cup of coffee as we walked into the gym. So I put Hannah down and let her walk. She was so proud to cross that parking lot with me and walk through the front doors on her own! And it dawned on me: She can walk now, I should let her walk now. So when it's safe, I do just that. In the stores, around the neighborhood...I let her walk as long, far and often as she wants to.

2) Buy some balls. Hannah is too little for soccer, and admittedly, that's not her soccer ball in the picture above, but I noticed her eyeing up the exercise balls at the gym as of late. Mine's been collecting dust in our basement (because I hardly exercise at home anymore), so I added it to her collection:

She loves chasing it around the house, and she loves kicking her smaller balls down the hallway. Nothing like a little foot/eye coordination development, eh? And with the nicer weather now, all of this can happen outside, too.

3) Get on the floor and wrestle (gently, of course). In our house, there's this typical time at night when all three of us are on the floor of our living room. Hannah literally climbs all over my husband and myself. It's hysterical and awesome at the same time. She'll literally dive at us, which will lead to one of us holding her up in the air like Superman, or gently turning her over in a mock backflip, or helping her with a few body rolls on the ground. What's cute is that she literally gets "out of breath" about it because she plays so hard. It's the best ever, really. And she's totally using all of her tiny little muscles from start to finish. Not only does this type of (gentle) play encourage strength, but it helps her become even more aware of her own body and how it can and cannot move.

4) Sign up for toddler-specific fitness classes. At this age, these fitness classes typically involve at least one parent, so not only is your child getting some physical fitness, they're having fun with you. Check with your local gym to see if they offer a Mommy/Baby yoga class, or maybe a Parent/Tot gymnastics or swimming class. (I mean, let's face it—this is a great way to let your inner child out, too.)

5) Lead by example. Tots like to mock what you do, it's that easy. If mommy and daddy think it's cool to go for a walk, then I bet the toddler will, too. In addition, remember that toddlers can't necessarily just decide they want to play outside. So at this stage in your kiddo's age, you have to be conscious about actually taking them outside to play.

Now, every child is different, so if there's only one thing you take away from the above, let it be this: Physical fitness is a journey, not a destination. You've heard that before. So at this point in your child's life, you really just need to do what you can to encourage movement. Teach them that movement...that being playful and fun. While books and DVDs have a place in almost every home, so do toys that encourage active play. Don't worry if they don't use these toys correctly right now, the point is that they're using them.

That they're moving (and having fun).

Question: Parents, how do you/how did you encourage your young children to be physically active?


Axel Kussmann said...

Great ideas. I think we do all of those with our 3.5 yo and 18 mo. I'd like to add swimming lessons to the list. I think it's important to give kids a positive attitude toward the water, and the earlier you start, the less chance they'll find it scary or unpleasant. Ours both love the water, and our youngest, who has Down syndrome, has had amazing physical development, thanks in no small part to it, in my opinion.

adailydoseoffit said...

I totally agree with you! I never took formal swimming lessons as a kid, and to this day, I'm very timid in the water. I can swim, but I'm not a confident swimmer. Hannah is 16MO and she's already taken a parent/tot class. I can't wait to get her in some more swimming classes! She certainly loves the water already...

kent - runbikerace said...

This is a great post, and I am happy to see that we do all of these things with our 2 and (almost) 4 yr old. I agree with Axel about swimming lessons. I like to find places we can walk, wagon ride, bike ride, or anything self powered mode of transport to get to.

adailydoseoffit said...

Oh my gosh, wagon rides! Hannah is obsessed with her wagon right now. It's wonderful!

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