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Even Babies Need Exercise

To maintain their lifelong health and your sanity, make sure your infant or toddler is getting enough physical activity.

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In a two-year study of obese 8- to 12-year-olds from 90 families, increased activity and reduced television viewing resulted in significant weight loss. The study, published in the August 1999 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, showed that children who are more physically active are less likely to become obese.

The NASPE's Active Start guidelines are divided into two groups of activity levels -- one for infants and one for toddlers.

Here are some of the suggestions for infants:

  • Infants should be placed in settings that encourage physical activity and do not restrict movement for prolonged periods of time.
  • Parents and caretakers should be aware of the importance of physical activity and encourage the child's movement skills.

For toddlers, the NASPE says, basic movement skills such as running, jumping, throwing, and kicking are clearly influenced by the environment they grow up in. For instance, they say, a child who does not have access to stairs may be delayed in stair climbing and a child who is discouraged from bouncing and chasing balls may lag in hand-eye coordination.

Here are some of the suggestions for toddlers:

  • Toddlers should get at least 30 minutes daily of structured physical activity. Preschoolers need at least 60 minutes.
  • Both toddlers and preschoolers should not be restrained for more than 60 minutes at a time in car seats or strollers, except when sleeping.

"It's important for parents to get involved and stay involved with the child," says Judy Young, PhD, NASPE executive director. "That child-parent interaction is what reinforces the exercise. In a sense, it becomes more than exercise and is more a physical-psychological learning experience for the child."

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