Do Preschoolers Need to Exercise? How Much?
Health & Safety

Do Preschoolers Need to Exercise? How Much?

by Martha Scully

While the little tykes seem to have boundless energy and be in perpetual motion, in our TV age, not all children get the exercise their body requires. Experts advise a certain amount of activity each day for optimal strength, growth, development, and health. Here is an overview of exercise guidelines, benefits, and methods for your toddler.


What Do Doctors Recommend?

Opinions of physicians vary somewhat.

KidsHealth.org reports that toddlers should get a minimum of 30 minutes of structured activity and 60 minutes of unstructured activity per day. They add that young children shouldn’t be inactive for more than an hour at a time except when they are sleeping.

Other groups, such as the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, say toddlers should get at least three hours of exercise at any intensity spread throughout the day.

How Does Exercise Benefit Toddlers?

Some of the benefits of exercise for your toddler are identical to the advantages for adults. These include improved appetite and sleep quality along with increased strength, immunity, and weight control. Exercise also improves mental health; therefore, kids who get sufficient activity will be happier and display more confidence than those who are sedentary.

Aside from enhancing general health, exercise provides some positive effects that are critically important for your child’s developing brain. A study published in Developmental Neuroscience found aerobically fit children have larger brain volume and better cognitive skills. Other research shows exercise boosts the blood flow to the brain, resulting in improved focus and alertness.

Harvard Medical School says physical activity elevates the body’s level of a chemical that facilitates better communication between brain cells, an asset that increases a child’s learning capacity. During the toddler years, children accumulate massive amounts of information about their world, so exercise is essential for the maximization of this process.

What Are the Consequences of Insufficient Exercise?

Inactivity in children raises the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression, but the main concern is that it leads to weight gain.

While obesity impairs the physical health of toddlers, it also takes a toll on their emotional and social health. Overweight children are sometimes teased cruelly, a sad reality that leads to poor self-esteem, stress, and anxiety. It also predisposes them to drug abuse as they get older.

Television & Exercise

Is too much time spent in front of a TV a threat to fitness? Although TV in moderation is harmless and even educational, excessive TV watching doesn’t promote wellness. It takes up time that otherwise would be spent in physical activity, interacting with family and playing with friends. Consequently, it can cause your toddler to lag behind in motor skills, social development, and creativity.

Related Read: 5 Ways to Help Limit Your Children’s Screen/TV Time

What Activities Can Your Child Do?

Encouraging toddlers to be active can help establish a lifelong habit; however, you need to be aware of your child’s capabilities. By the age of 2, children can run well and perhaps jump in place and kick a ball. At the age of 3, they can pedal a tricycle, kick a ball and throw a ball overhand. Older toddlers can skip, catch a ball and ride a scooter.

How to Encourage Your Toddler to Exercise

Realize that in the early childhood years, you’re likely your child’s favorite playmate, so you can do much to foster a mindset of being active.

The games you can use to encourage movement are innumerable and only limited by your imagination. Just remember to keep it fun rather than making it seem like a chore. Once your toddler is comfortable playing with you, finding a child playmate for him will provide social stimulation.

Parents.com provides an array of creative play ideas to get a preschooler moving.

Animal-themed games involve asking your child to fly like a bird, leap like a frog or run like a rabbit. Follow the leader is a game that consists of having the toddler imitate your movements. You could also set up an obstacle course in your yard, and then hold your child’s ankles while he navigates around the blockages on both hands.

Aside from games like those above, you can promote activity in other ways. Such measures could include playing music and dancing together, visiting a local playground or taking a nature walk in a park. You can also plan scavenger hunts in your backyard, have pillow fights and play with balloons.

In addition, stretches, yoga and age-appropriate exercises, such as leg lifts, are beneficial.

If your toddler is constantly on the move, he may not need to be nudged to exercise. Try to monitor his activity level, and be ready to initiate some games when he shows signs of wanting to be a couch potato. In cases when a child isn’t interested in vigorous play, make an appointment with your doctor.

Conclusion

After chasing a toddler all day, you might find it odd that children this age may need more exercise but since physical activity is profoundly important for anybody, especially a developing child, your efforts to encourage an active lifestyle is an investment that will pay big dividends. The rewards will be better physical, mental, emotional and social health for your toddler.


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About the Author
Martha Scully
Martha is the founder of CanadianNanny.ca. Martha has been featured as a Child Care Expert in hundreds of publications across Canada including The Globe and Mail, CBC, Today's Parent and The National Post, She lives in British Columbia with her husband and two daughters.