Exercise for the Youngest Set
Kids have so much natural energy it’s sometimes hard to think of why they should be encouraged to exercise. But for the younger crowd, ‘exercise’ means something quite different than in the case of adults.
Adults interested in health and fitness can commit to a rigorous, heavy workout on a regular basis. Kids would often find that sort thing boring, if not outright risky. Routines appropriate for adults just don’t suit the growing bodies of younger kids.
Kids are also becoming increasingly sedentary with the growth of alternative forms of entertainment. TV has been around for decades, but 24 hour per day video, the Internet, and other distractions are relatively recent phenomena. That increases the challenge of finding the right kind of healthy activity for those developing physiques, one that will sustain kids’ interest.
Both common sense and numerous scientific studies agree on two points. Get involved with the kids and they’ll take to exercise readily. Second, make the activity fun and tailored to the child’s age and you’ll start them off right on the road to a healthy lifestyle that lasts a lifetime.
Infants and toddlers are often whisked from barely being able to crawl right into restraints. Car seats and playpens have their place. But a very young child needs, for both physical and mental health, to explore his or her environment freely. Nearly every child will eagerly explore the surroundings, touching and grabbing, manipulating and testing. That should be allowed and even encouraged for at least some part of the day.
Later, when the muscles and bones develop to the point that more vigorous activities can be engaged in safely, up the ante. Devise games and sports that have a goal, but also allow for plenty of undirected fun time.
Kids like to have a goal to strive for, but attaching adult-sized stress for prizes can hinder the basic purpose of the activity. Whether it’s soccer or swimming, gymnastics or just tossing a ball, keep it fun. Keep it focused on the child’s needs, not the adults’ wishes.
At a certain age, say past 8 or 10 years old, cycling to school can do double duty, as both transportation and exercise. Even walking is fine when the circumstances allow. They’ll thank you years later when they have the opportunity to tell their kids how they walked a mile to school. In the snow. Barefoot. Carrying weights.
As they get to those ‘tween’ years, the level of activity can increase accordingly. Whether it’s more rigorous gymnastics routines, tennis, or running the level should be something that stretches them but doesn’t cause harm. Simple ‘school type’ exercises can often be boring. Jumping jacks, push ups, and the like often look too much like a forced routine to kids. But they never tire of exercise disguised as fun. Of course, the disguise doesn’t have to look like a Halloween mask. It can be something that really is fun. Be creative.
The result will be higher self-esteem, a fit body, and the ability to carry out tasks safely that otherwise might cause harm. Obesity, poor focus, and other problems often start from lack of proper activity at an early age. But heart health, good eating habits, and a lifetime commitment to a wellness lifestyle are more likely when the right habits are established early.
Exercise, in the right form, is one important pillar of that structure.
Kristy Lee Wilson