What does “exercise” mean for kids at different ages?
Stroller Strides mom Kristy Sketeris writes:
This is a conversation that takes place frequently in our house, as my husband and I are both fitness instructors. Several days each week, my girls know that my husband is helping a group of athletes realize their fitness goals as he coaches them through an intense physical workout. My daughters are actually with me when I lead an amazing group of moms through their workouts most weekday mornings. Our whole family juggles a schedule that lets both of us get our own workouts in each week, and frequently our weekends involve a road race or a weightlifting competition.
My daughters are 2 and 4-years-old, and both of them can show you a pretty decent squat or demonstrate a plank. At this point we consider it a pretty amusing reflection of our lives when they mimic our fitness endeavors. But when my older daughter asks us what she should be doing to get in her “exercise,” we tell her that she’s already doing everything her body needs for exercise when she’s hard at play.
For the last three and a half years, my girls and I have spent about an hour almost every weekday on the playground at . They run, climb, hang, swing, crawl, and dig. I celebrated both of them when they first realized they could hang from a bar or when they first mustered the coordination to climb a piece of equipment themselves. Last week, I videotaped my older daughter’s first successful trip all the way across the monkey bars.
I believe that this is what “exercise” should be for toddlers and preschoolers. They play without rules, structure, or teams. And there are certainly no reps and sets. I just want them to use their bodies and to have fun. My hope is that this love of play will help them find a way to continue “playing” as older kids and later as adults, whether it takes place in a gym, on a team, or in a dance studio.
Full-time working mom Jenny Shepard writes:
I consider us an active family! We like to get the kids outside and to be involved in an activity that they enjoy! We don’t necessarily call it exercise.
Sometimes it’s an impromptu game of tag, indoor soccer, dodge ball or an organized family bike ride! During the week, since the kids are in school, they get lots of outdoors time and a structured PE class, which is great! Sometimes we will walk our preschooler to school, which is also nice. The weekends are when we have to make sure we incorporate a family activity each day to get everyone up and moving.
My goal is not to drive on some weekend days, so we walk anywhere we need to go. I also like to take the boys for a long hour walk. We are fortunate to usually see the neighbors’ chickens and some deer in Hidden Valley. I let them take turns walking or pushing the stroller, which is great. We will also try and go to the Saturday class where my 6 and 4-year-old will follow us around on their scooters. All three boys are rewarded with more play time at the park which helps to wear them out as well.
As much as I wish I could tell them to run laps, we have to be more creative to get them up and moving which in turn gets us up and moving!
Monrovia Mom Jaime Townzen writes:
Exercise means physical activity of almost any nature. So for newborns, exercise may be as simple as gripping dad’s fingers. For infants, it is time spent on the floor rolling, crawling, sitting and exploring. Toddlers can turn almost any activity into a physical activity: I’ll always remember (fondly? Hmmm) Dani’s 18-month-old naptime escapades of jumping in her bed, climbing out of the crib, removing every book, toy and piece of clothing from its location in her room, then running around the giant pile of loot in the center until she literally passed out from exhaustion.
Somewhere around toddler/preschool age, parents should become a little more deliberate about the types of exercise their children are getting, though. I don’t mean that all 2-year-olds need to be signed up for ballet or t-ball, but regular opportunities to catch, throw and kick a ball are great for coordination. And ballet has really helped my kids’ dexterity, while providing physical activity that embraces their love for all things girly and dress-up related. Bike/scooter/trike riding, flying a kite and taking an “adventure walk” are all great forms of exercise for preschoolers, too. Whatever the activity is, when young children learn early that they can get up and move around in ways they enjoy, it will help them to have healthy habits of physical activity for the rest of their lives.
As children get into elementary school and beyond, I do believe exposure to some team/group activities is good for them socially, emotionally and developmentally. But not every kid is made the same. Maybe try a few out, then take a break if it doesn’t seem like a good fit. Your child can always try again later. But season after season of team sports may not be the right form of exercise of some kids.
Know your kids, and don’t overwhelm them or exhaust yourself with fruitless endeavors to turn them into the next pro-anything if it isn’t in their nature. Don’t let them get away with sitting in front of a TV or computer all day either, though. School, homework, eventually college and career all demand long periods of sitting, so teaching kids that it is good for their bodies and their mental well-being to break up the inactivity with exercise will help them in the long run to be able to make the same healthy decision when they are stressed out and overworked later in life.
And it’s really important that they see mom and dad making the same healthy choice as well! So, if they don’t want to play sports, get out and get active together.