10 ways to keep under fives active
Government guidelines released earlier this week suggest that toddlers under five should be getting at least three hours of exercise every day. The advice was: less television for our tots and more activities that make them ‘huff and puff’ – like running and chasing.
Parents were also encouraged to limit the amount of time babies spend strapped in car seats and buggies and to allow them plenty of opportunities to move about on activity mats or baby gyms.
It’s the first time the under-fives have been targeted with exercise advice and arrives amidst concern about NHS figures indicating that 23% of children aged four to five are overweight. Experts predict this figure could rise to 63% by 2050.
We asked baby fitness experts how best to get our little ones on the go…
1. Try tummy time
Giving your baby the opportunity to lie on his tummy encourages him to lift his head against gravity and is vital for his upper body strength says Dr Lin Day, founder of Baby Sensory baby development classes. ‘Start from birth if you can, as they will get used to the feeling of being on their tummies, but always stay with them for supervised play,’ she says. ‘Lie on the floor facing them and talk to them or dangle a toy so they try to look up at you. Try it after every nappy change. Tummy time leads on to crawling – a key development stage!’
2. Row, row, row your boat
Place your baby on your lap – if he can’t hold his own head up, keep him tucked into your abdomen so his head is supported. (If he’s old enough to sit up unaided, place him on your knee facing you.) Hold your baby’s hands and rock back and forward as you sing ‘row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream…’ ‘This is a great game to help strengthen their upper body muscles, posture, balance and co-ordination – as they row they have to try to keep their head and neck still,’ says Dr Day.
3. Bounce with baby
If your baby has gained control of his head and neck, take a gym ball or beach ball, seat your baby on top and, holding him securely, gently bounce him up and down. ‘This is an exercise your baby will find great fun and he’ll probably squeal with delight,’ says Dr Day. ‘He’ll also be improving his posture, balance and coordination as he bounces!’ Research shows that playing games like this, where you interact with your baby in a fun way might help him go on to develop a love of sports and games in later life.
4. Get on the mat
Give your baby plenty of opportunity to enjoy unrestricted exercise on the floor and out of their bouncy chairs or car seats. Activity mats and baby gyms are god. ‘Try tying a helium balloon around his ankle, or even bells – they will encourage him to kick,’ says Dr Day. ‘Get him to reach upwards by dangling a toy above him.’
5. Walk to nursery
‘Get your little ones out of the stroller and walk them to nursery,’ says Dean Horridge, founder of Fit For Sport an organisation that runs children and family fitness activity programmes. ‘If you make it into a daily habit and incorporate a few games en route (how many red cars can we spot today?) they’ll forget it’s hard work. If it rains, get out the wellies and waterproofs and splash to school! Much more fun than being strapped up in a car seat day after day.’
6. Get on your bike
These days, your child is never too young for a bike, so get them on the move early, suggests Dean. ‘Toddler balance bikes and trikes and other wheeled ride-ons are great fun for little ones, easy to use, and encourage a sense of independence as well as improving fitness, co-ordination and balance as they zip around,’ says Dean. We like the look of the stylish (though pricey!) new BitBike, $90 and Mookie’s fun Scuttlebug $29.99 and Whirlee, $9.99 from all major retailers and Amazon from 1st August.
7. Dive in
‘As well as the obvious life-saving skills he’ll be learning, swimming allows for fantastic freedom of movement for your baby – and it’s one of the best activities for all-round fitness,’ says Ali Burlingham, Aquatic Manager at Water Babies, which runs swimming classes for babies. Swimming is known to strengthen the heart and lungs and improve muscular development too. ‘Our classes make fitness fun – we use nursery rhymes and songs to encourage them to ‘kick, kick, kick’ and bounce around in the water, for example. And, when they’ve learned to swim underwater, they often retrieve toys from the bottom of the pool, using their whole body to do so.’
8. Bop along together
‘Most children, even babies, seem to love moving around to music,’ says Anne-Marie Martin, founder of Diddi Dance pre-school dance classes. ‘Try playing all styles of music to your child and see how they react. If they smile and bounce along then that’s what they like!’ says Anne-Marie. ‘Encourage them to do their own thing, bopping along or running around – keep things fun! Introduce some instruments they can shake along to the beat of the music. Tie ribbons around their arms for them to wave around or buy some pom poms they can shake. We love playing the bodyparts game at the start of our Diddi Dance classes – we play a song and the children have the freedom to move however they like. Then, we pause it and shout out a body part and see if they can shake it. Try it at home!’
9. Enjoy indoor fun
All children love an obstacle course, so set one up in the house, suggests Dean. ‘Pile up some cushions for them to climb over, a table they have to crawl under and so on,’ he says. ‘Balloons in the house are great fun, too. Play a game where you have to keep the balloon in the air and from bouncing on the ground.’ If that sounds all too much like chaos for those house-proud people amongst you, Dean also suggests a game of hide and seek. ‘Hide their favourite toy somewhere in the house and give them clues as to where it may be. Great for getting them off the sofa and away from the television!’
10. Get back to basics
‘Play dates seem to be more about parents having coffee and children sitting in front of a DVD these days,’ says Dean. ‘That’s fine occasionally, but I say going back to basics with your little ones is much more fun – and better for their fitness too. Schedule your next play date in the park – take along some balls (all kids like to kick, throw and run!). Tag is also a great basic – all children love the excitement of being chased, or to chase after their parents!’
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