Toddler Physical Activity - Surprised by Recommendations!

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    By: Dawn Juntilla

    As the mom of a nearly three-year old, I would never have described my son as inactive.  However, when I read what the experts recommend, I was surprised to learn that my energetic toddler was not getting enough physical activity to ensure he stays healthy. 

    According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, toddlers should engage in at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day.   So far so good, my son’s daycare has structured outdoor play time once or twice per day, year round.  On the weekends, we swim, go to the zoo, or play at the local park to keep the kids moving.  I was sure we exceeded the daily 30 minute requirement.

    Expert recommendation number two: Toddlers should engage in at least 60 minutes - and up to several hours - per day of unstructured physical activity and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, except when sleeping.  Hmmm.  Not so sure about this one.  My first thought - watching the entire Cars movie is now off the table.  I struggled to identify another hour or more of physical activity in my son’s daily routine.  I was sure we were following this recommendation a couple days per week, but every day?  Even in the winter?  I didn’t think so.

    Not wanting to accept this apparent failure on my part, I speculated that the expert definition of “physical activity” was broader than my definition.  Again, I was wrong.  According to the Centers to Disease Control and Prevention, physical activity falls into three categories:  Aerobic Activity, Muscle Strengthening and Bone Strengthening.  Aerobic activity means moderate to vigorous activity, activity that gets your child’s heart pumping faster and gets your child breathing harder than normal. Muscle Strengthening and Bone Strengthening involve weight or resistance related activities. Pretty safe to assume that a couple hours playing trains and cars does not fit the bill.

    I was once again faced with the fact that my little guy was not active enough every day.  I needed a plan. The fact that it was October in Minnesota meant playing outside wasn’t always a viable option (primarily because my son refused to wear a coat, hat or mittens). That said, I signed him up for swimming lessons on Saturday mornings.  One day down, six to go.

    Onto the more difficult daily routine changes.  I needed to think of some exciting and active things to do inside, preferable something that did not require too much planning or creativity on my part.   After some thought, I realized I didn’t need to come up with totally new ideas.  I drew on my childhood memories and family game nights were born. 

    We’ve played classics such as Simon Says, Duck Duck Goose and Red Rover. And have even come up with a new game called Freeze Dance. I have never had so much fun with my family.  Not only are we more active, we laugh more, the kids whine less and we all sleep better!  

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