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Fit for Life - The Importance of Fitness for Toddlers

written by: Tania Faria • edited by: Cheryl Gabbert • updated: 6/27/2011

Exercise in toddlers is important for long lasting fitness. Helping children develop healthy habits is a great way to keep the fit for life.

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    The Importance of Fitness Education

    As parents, we’re told about the importance of fitness education for our children. As parents, we’re told facts and figures about childhood obesity in America and what can be done. Experts suggest bringing more physical activity into schools or getting children involved in sports. Experts talk about what to feed small children and where to go for help. Most importantly, experts talk about the importance of parental support in childhood fitness.

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    The Parental Role in Childhood Fitness

    Parents play an integral role in childhood fitness and they do more than simply decide what the child is eating and how often they go outside. Parents are role models and guides to their children, especially when the child is in those formidable toddler and pre school years. Children between the ages of 3 and 6 will watch their parents and mimic their actions. A child that sees their mother cooking and cleaning will ultimately play in that same fashion. It’s for this reason that parent’s activities mimic what they are looking to teach their child.

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    Structured and Unstructured Daily Exercise for Toddlers

    Parents should become active with their toddler and not only in play. Parents can include children in structured exercise activities as well as active play time. Children at this age love to act grown up and if the parent sets aside time daily to perform more regular exercise the child is likely to follow suit. It is recommended that in addition to unstructured physical play, children aged 3 to 7 get 30 minutes of structured exercise. This prepares children for a lifetime of fitness.

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    Structured Activities

    Structured exercise includes walking, dance, stretching, yoga and standard exercise. If parents are careful, there is no reason that children should be unable to perform most regular exercise activities. Balance activities should be more sporadic but children can do them and improve their sense of balance. The parents should make sure the child has plenty of room to run, jump and perform any other exercises in structured time.

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    The Importance of Unstructured Play

    Parents should not discourage children from running, climbing, or other physical activity unless it poses a risk of injury to the child. In a safe environment, such as a playground that meets all safety regulations for the child’s age group, the child should be encouraged to spend time freely exploring and playing. Play is one of the most effective and fun forms of exercise.

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    Sports and Group Activities

    Within this age group, sports and other classroom activities can be introduced, though it’s not necessary. Group physical activity can encourage younger children to work together, improve social behaviors and add to the “fun factor” of exercise. At the younger end of the scale, parents may want to avoid sports in favor of more “freestyle” exercises such as dance. As the children grow a bit older and get into the 5 to 7 year old range, competitive sports can be introduced and rules can and should be encouraged. At this age children also begin to understand team work. Sports and group physical activities are a great way to get children structured exercise.

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    Fitness information for the youngest toddlers

    Health and Human Services guidelines for Toddlers and Infants