Even Babies Need Exercise
To maintain their lifelong health and your sanity, make sure your infant or toddler is getting enough physical activity.
Parents are starting to catch on to the idea that everyone needs exercise,
even infants and toddlers. Energetic and rambunctious, 18-month-old Aiden
pushes his toy stroller around a playground in New York City.
"I really try to encourage him to move around as much as
possible," says Aiden's mother, Nancy Chin, 32. "Before we started
coming to the playground every day, he would be whiney and clinging after
breakfast. But now, even just 10 or 15 minutes of him walking around makes him
calmer and more likely to take a nap. We try to get that much twice a day, at
That's exactly what the authors of Active Start, the first set
of exercise guidelines for babies, which were put out by the National
Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), want to hear more parents
According to these pediatric experts, parents who use
strollers, playpens, car and infant seats for hours at a time, may be delaying
their child's physical and mental development.
"The need for even the very young to be physically active
is something parents often don't understand," says Jane Clark, PhD,
professor and chair of the department of kinesiology at the University of
Maryland. Clark chaired the NASPE committee that wrote the guidelines.
"The earlier infants, toddlers, and preschool children get
exposure to daily movement and exercise, the better the likelihood of healthy
development in later life," Clark says.
Regular exercise causes the kind of development that may be
critical for health in later life. Infancy and the toddler years are the time
that the brain is developing pathways and connections to the muscles.
Children who do not get enough exercise may miss out on the
chance to make the strong kinds of brain-muscle connections that make physical
activity easier and more enjoyable. As the child grows and matures, it is that
physical competence that makes exercise more likely to become a life-long
And that's important for all kids, not just those who will
become gifted athletes.
"For babies, exercise is protection against obesity not
just now, but as they grow up," says Lori Rosello, MD, a pediatrician in
private practice in New York. "If kids enjoy exercise as babies, they will
be more active as adults. That's not just because it is a learned behavior,
though it can be, but also because their brains have incorporated the physical
skills that make exercise more enjoyable."
As children grow, she says, those who exercise and continue to
do so into adulthood are much less likely to become obese.
"Of course, you can't ignore the genetics and environmental
influences that every kid has, but early exercise offers a sort of protection
against obesity in later life, and that's important to your child's
health," says Rosello.