First Steps to Fitness

by NDFAuthors

  • Aug 29, 2014

It’s never too early to teach children the benefits of physical activity. In the United States, the childhood obesity rate has tripled in the past three decades. In 2010, around 43 million preschoolers worldwide were considered overweight.  Obesity can have long term consequences on the mental and physical health of a growing child.

The good news is that young children have a natural desire to be active. Before they are five years old, kids will already be walking, climbing, and jumping. Kids want to explore the world around them so parents should encourage their children to make activity a daily habit.

It is important to find the right activities for children according to their age. Babies should spend time each day crawling, grasping, and reaching in a contained environment. Once a child is able to walk without assistance, he should spend at least 3 hours per day doing light activity. This could consist of walking around the house or climbing on the playground. Toddlers can also dance or skip rope if they prefer more energetic activity.



Parents should pair exercise with lessons on proper nutrition. After kids finish playing, they should eat healthy snacks like carrots, apple slices, or celery sticks. Doctors recommend that preschoolers eat at least 1.5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day. Children are much more likely to maintain a proper weight if parents also model healthy eating habits.


Youngsters will enjoy activities most when other kids are present. Parents should organize play-dates where kids can engage in group activities. Toddlers will observe their peers and want to learn new abilities. These sessions will build self-esteem and social skills. Kids will also be exposed to different sports and better understand activities they may want to try when they are older. Your son may have a natural ability to throw. Or your daughter may love to kick a ball. The key is to create an environment where children feel safe and encouraged to expand their horizons.


Parents may be tempted to entertain their children with TV or video games. However, the National Association of Sports and Physical Education cautions that preschoolers should not be inactive for more than an hour per day (except when sleeping). Families can stay active by playing together. If it is nighttime, families can build an obstacle course around the house or play sports using foam balls. If families are enjoying a favorite TV program together, they can do jumping jacks or light jogging during commercial breaks. Any activity that gets kids moving will be better than hours of sitting on the couch. In an age consumed by technology, parents need to be creative to foster positive habits in their kids. In the long run, children will be healthier, sleep better, and give their parents some rest of their own.