First steps to physical fitness 

Recent studies show that the older a child gets, the less likely he is to get the physical activity necessary for good health. Chances are you haven’t thought much about encouraging your young child’s physical fitness -- infants seem too young for such plans. But no matter what your child’s age, you can start now to encourage his love of physical activity. 

Opportunities for infants

When your baby is awake and playful, place her on her stomach on a firm surface such as a blanket on the floor. Stay on her level and talk to her. She will work to lift her head off the surface providing exercise to strengthen her back. Around 3 months of age she should be able to prop herself up with her arms and lift her chest off the surface. Next, she’ll stretch to look at something above her eye level and – surprise! She rolls over for the first time. Mastery of these movement milestones depends on the chance to move unrestrained. If your baby is in an infant seat, swing, or walker for long stretches of time she does not get the opportunity to develop physical fitness. 

Movers and shakers
The toddler years are devoted to finding out how to get someplace; you can observe the motor drive in your child as he crawls, walks and climbs. Provide the opportunity for your child to move his muscles by clearing an open space free of sharp edges, obstacles, strewn toys, or stairs and supervise your child as he walks. If your toddler goes to child care, talk to your child care provider to make sure ample time is devoted to physical activity during the day. Get outdoors as much as possible by walking around the block, kicking a ball in the yard, or playing at a park. Around this age children begin to imitate their caregivers, so make sure you engage in physical activity yourself. 

Preschool powerhouses
Typically developing preschoolers are ready for lots of physical activity. They don’t have to think so hard about how to move their bodies; their motor skills are becoming automatic. And a child’s self-esteem is enhanced when she can run, jump, and play vigorously. Preschoolers are developing lots of other interests too, and your role includes making sure your child has a good balance of active and quiet pasttimes. Preschoolers enjoy playing with friends, so arrange opportunities for your child to play with others and encourage active games. 

Lifelong habits for good physical fitness begin early.

  • Be a role model. Participate in and enjoy physical activity yourself.
  • Play active games with your child. Your participation encourages your child to engage in physical activity.
  • Plan time for unstructured play. Young children need blocks of time to invent play, including physical activity.
  • Provide space, including outdoor space, for active play. If your home does not have a place to play outdoors, take your child to a park or schoolyard every day.
  • Look for programs in your community. Your community’s recreation or parks department may have activities for young children. Attend your PAT program’s group meetings that provide active play times.
  • Invite a buddy. Your child may be more physically active when he has a playmate.
  • Limit TV watching. More than an hour or two of TV watching and electronic game playing a day poses a threat to your child’s physical well being. Be positive about your child’s activity. Encourage her skills and avoid making fun of her or belittling her ability.


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