Do you remember running, jumping, sliding and just go..go..going when you were little?  We were outside and we were active.  Our brains and bodies were being stimulated by all of the play opportunities.

Today’s young children are much more sedentary than we were.  According to an article by Catherine Holecko, (Fitness for Preschoolers available at http://familyfitness.about.com ) in the late 1970’s, about 5% of children between 2 and 5 years old were overweight.  Recently that figure has climbed to nearly 14% according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Combine this less active lifestyle with poor eating habits, and the result is a generation of young children that may face many health-related problems in their future. Diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and breathing problems are just a few problems that are becoming more prevalent at an earlier age.

How much activity should preschoolers have?  The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends the following guidelines for young children:

  • 60 minutes a day doing structured activities.  These are activities where new skills are being taught and practiced such as throwing a ball, riding a bike.  This time allows for teaching the skill and providing feedback to encourage children to become proficient at the skill.
  • At least 60 minutes a day doing unstructured activities.  These activities are not adult-led but are games and other activities where children make up their play.
  • No more than 60 minutes at a time should be sedentary activities unless they are sleeping.

Spring and summer are great times to get active! The following tip sheet, developed by the Illinois Early Learning Center, provides some great ideas and information on how to promote a more active and healthier lifestyle.  (Illinois Early Learning Project, http://illinoisearlylearning.org/tips.htm)

Physical Fitness for Preschool-Age Children

What physical activities can you expect preschool-age children to do?

  • By age 3, most children go up and down stairs by alternating their feet, jump in place, throw overhand.
  • By age 4, most children can catch a bounced ball, jump with a running start, pedal a tricycle.
  • By age 5, most children can skip, leading with one foot, roll like a log, pump their legs on a swing.

What can you do at home or in child care to help young children be physically fit?

  • Encourage them to get moving. Make positive comments that focus on effort: ‘Wow, you zoomed down the slide!’  ‘You almost made a basket!’
  • Provide at least 60 minutes a day for active free play. Offer riding toys, balls, beanbags, climbers, balance beams, and obstacle courses. Let children pedal, throw, roll, climb, run, skip, dig, and jump in a safe space until they are tired.
  • Plan an hour or more of structured physical activity each day. Families and caregivers can teach creative movement, dance, and game-playing skills. Many park districts offer classes in swimming, group games, or ballet for young children. Classes should focus on skills and fun, not winning and losing. In most cases, organized sports are more appropriate for older children.
  • Think about safety. Help children remember hats and mittens during cold weather. In hot weather, see that they cool off in the shade and drink plenty of water. Whatever the weather, help them avoid too much exposure to direct sunlight. If a child has asthma or another condition that limits active play, a health care provider can suggest ways to help the child be active and safe.
  • Turn off the TV, computer, and electronic games. Limit screen time to leave more time for active play. Experts say preschoolers should not sit in one place or lie down for more than an hour at a time unless they are sleeping.
  • Set a good example. Let children see you eating healthy food and being active. Note: Doctors say it is better to talk about becoming strong and healthy, rather than about being thin or losing weight.
  • Exercise together. Try hiking, gardening, and games like catch or tag. Stress cooperation and fun rather than winning.
  • Share books that show the importance of fitness. Offer children books about dancers, athletes, construction workers, farmers, and other physically active people.

Get out and get active!

Next, Part 2: Health Eating