To Prevent Childhood Obesity, The Earlier The Better for Exercising
A report from the Institute of Medicine finds that almost 10% of infants and toddlers in the United States carry excess weight. More than 20% of kids between the ages of 2 and 5 are considered overweight or obese. Severely restricting diet is not recommended as children need essential nutrients to grow. However, too many young kids are physically inactive, so the British government has issued some recommendations on exercise that parents here in the US should follow as well.
Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said, “The early years shape every child’s future. Physical activity is important from an early age – if a toddler spends too much time sitting passively in front of a TV then problems will be stored up for the future.”
Regular exercise not only helps children (and adults) control weight, but it can also help reduce stress, improve self-esteem and confidence, build healthy bones and muscles, improve sleep at night, and improve learning at school. Later in life, a pattern of daily physical activity will reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancers.
Currently, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and teens get at least 60 minutes of activity each day. Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, says that this isn’t enough. Children under the age of 5 actually need to be physically active for at least three hours each day.
Davies recommends the following advice for parents on getting their children more exercise during the day:
• Reduce the amount of time that babies and toddlers spend in car seats, strollers and other restraint devices. Encourage babies to move about on activity mats or swimming. Try baby yoga.
• Once a child can walk, encourage “active play”, such as running and chasing games, skipping, hopscotch, or playing on playgrounds and sand boxes.
• As kids get older, teach them how to ride a bike, skate, play soccer or baseball. You can also involve children in dance or gymnastics classes and martial arts classes, if that interests them.
• Don’t forget that all physical activity counts, even if your children are doing chores or helping you plant a garden.
• Work with your child’s preschool or elementary school to include more physical activity during the school day (ie: PE classes, recess, or stretch breaks during classroom learning). Become a part of your school’s parent-teacher group and hold active events for fundraising, such as fun runs, relay races, and field day.
• Be a role model for healthy activity yourself. Instead of spending time after work being sedentary, turn off the television and computer and join your children for a walk or game of tag. You will improve your own health in the process.
“It’s vital that parents introduce children to fun and physically active pastimes to help prevent them becoming obese children, who are likely to become obese adults at risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers,” said Maura Gillespie, head of policy and advocacy at the British Heart Foundation.
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