Babies need more physical fitness

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We hear the statistics – obesity in Canadian school children is increasing and physical fitness is decreasing. Now it seems this trend is starting in our youngest children. According to a new report published by Dr. Mark Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research, and his colleagues, obesity levels are high even in the early years – from birth to age four.

As a JK teacher and a new mother of a four-month-old, I recognize that what my son sees us do will impact what he does. I also know that it is important that we set the template for healthy eating. But I have to admit that when I read the guidelines, I was surprised to see that they are to be followed right from birth. It is startling that we need guidelines in this young age group, but indeed we do.

Two sets of guidelines have been released. The first recommends daily amounts of physical activity:

  • Infants (under one year) should be physically active several times daily, with activities such as tummy time, playing and rolling on the floor, crawling and reaching;
  • Toddlers and preschoolers should accumulate 180 minutes of physical activity per day. Toddlers should do any activity that gets them moving from climbing stairs to playing outside to crawling and walking, running or dancing.
  • By age 5 children should have at least 60 minutes of energetic play per day.

Activity helps maintain a healthy body weight, improve movement skills, increase fitness, build healthy hearts, develop self-confidence and improve learning and attention. And it’s fun!

We know that active kids are less likely to be obese, but the benefits don’t end there. Dr. Tremblay notes activity helps improve cardiac and metabolic profiles in how we handle cholesterol and sugar. We also see improvement in cognitive skills, motor skills, lower levels of fatness, improved psychosocial skills and better social indicators.

The second set of guidelines aims to minimize sedentary time and screen time.

  • Children under two should have no screen time;
  • Children two to four should have no more than an hour screen time a day.

What does this mean for babies?

  • Limit the use of infant seats when children are awake.
  • Stop during a long car trip to remove infants from their car seats for playtime.
  • Set clear limits about screen time.
  • Do not allow televisions or computers in bedrooms.
  • Get kids outdoors.
  • Limit the amount of restrictive playpen time for mobile babies and toddlers.

While the physical activity guidelines may seem familiar, Dr. Tremblay emphasizes it is equally important to address sedentary behaviour.

Your child might meet the goals of physical activity, but if he or she comes home and does nothing but sits, we are failing on the sedentary guidelines.

Physical activity and sedentary behaviour are the two parts of the health equation – and both need to be met.

Active living ideas for baby

Stumped for ways to get your baby active? Here’s what Jenna does with her four-month-old:

  • Use the car seat only to get from point A to point B
  • Provide lots of tummy time
  • Make time on the play mat for kicking and reaching
  • Encourage splashing and kicking in the bath tub
  • Include time for bouncing

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2012.

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