Getting children involved in exercise from an early age is key to their healthy development. However, in age where the temptation of the iPad is ever-present, what can you do to get your children interested in keep fit, and keep them interested as they grow from toddler to teenager?
The early days
Children begin to exercise from the moment they’re born. Naturally, this doesn’t mean they’ll be doing press-ups or running on a treadmill; it means they should be physically active and having fun.
For a baby, this starts with pushing, pulling, kicking or reaching, and there are lots of toys designed to encourage it. Make sure your baby has lots of different things to do like this. Once crawling starts, simple games such as chasing a ball across the floor help to build up muscles and stamina.
Fun for toddlers
For optimum health, toddlers should be more active than people at any other stage in life. They should have at least three hours a day of active play such as running, jumping, dancing, swimming, climbing or rolling around.
The more varied the play, the more good it will do. The easiest way to make this happen is to arrange for your toddler to spend lots of time with others the same age.
No young child should be physically inactive for long. They get restless for a reason – because movement is important to their health. Games are the best way to provide this, but not all exercise has to be high-intensity.
As they get older, it’s natural for them to calm down a bit, and activities such as walking or playing on a swing will come to take up some of the time that used to be spent on high-speed activities. This is a good time to start introducing them to sports or taking them to age-appropriate exercise classes. Martial arts can be especially good for kids this age, improving flexibility and balance as well as teaching patience, self-discipline and respect for others.
In later years, many children will take up sports at school. You can support them by taking time out to help them practice and by engaging with what they find interesting rather than trying to persuade them to do what you’re into.
Some won’t fit in with team sports, and then it’s up to you to help them find forms of exercise they can enjoy. Simple challenges, such as seeing how many times they can bounce a ball off a racket before it hits the ground, can make small-scale activities more engaging. I find that children who don’t like competitive sports often love competing against themselves – and they get stronger, faster and happier in the process.
Keep the whole family fit!