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Raising a Fit Preschooler

Akron Children's Hospital Mahoning Valley

Why is Physical Activity (PA) important for preschoolers?

Preschoolers are developing motor skills at this age. Motor skills include running, hopping, skipping, balancing on one foot and learning to throw/catch a ball. PA is important for development of these skills.

What are some other benefits of preschoolers getting active?
• PA is important for building and protecting bones and muscles
• Helps kids maintain a healthy weight
• Prevents diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease
• Helps boost the immune system and mood
• Improves school performance
• Helps build confidence and self esteem
• Helps build resilience to physical and emotional challenges
• Helps kids sleep better
• Helps develop endurance (think playing a game of tag during an entire recess period)
• Builds strength (hanging on and crossing monkey bars)
• Flexibility (bending over to pick up a ball)

Also, giving kids opportunities for safe play in both organized and unstructured ways builds a foundation for a fit lifestyle that can carry them through life. It is so important to start with healthy habits early as they are easier to implement than trying to make changes in an older child.

What are some PA guidelines for preschoolers?

SHAPE America, which is part of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, recommends 60 minutes of structured activity and a minimum of 60 minutes of unstructured activity – daily. The AHA and AAP both recommend a minimum of 60 minutes daily. In addition, it is recommended that preschoolers have no longer than 60 minutes being sedentary at a time, and less than 1 hour of screen time daily. Kids under 18 months should not have any screen time at all.

Important to note that PA can be cumulative, meaning you don’t have to do 60 minutes all at once, it all counts toward the goal!

What are some examples of structured activities?

Structured activities are essentially any activities that are led by adults
• Adult leading games such as duck, duck, goose or Simon Says
• Organized sports or activities like dance, gymnastics or martial arts
• Mommy and me classes at fitness centers
• Adult-led walk or hike
• Swim lessons
• Adults turning a board game into an active game, for example when you land on a certain space you do five jumping jacks, etc.
• Lead a child in building a fort
• Play human wheelbarrow, balance bean bags on head, blow bubbles and let kids chase them (adult directing the activity)

What are some examples of unstructured activities?
• Any active play: running around yard, riding bikes, trampoline, swimming, recess
• Parking farther away when shopping to get exercise
• Make household chores fun: Set timer to challenge kids to clean up toys or retrieve items or dust something
• Set up an obstacle course or a scavenger hunt (the setup is structured but doing the activity is unstructured), letting the kids play in the fort after it is built
• Have a dance party
• Keep a basket filled with foam balls, streamers, costumes, etc., to encourage imaginative and creative play
• Set up play dates

The best way to encourage healthy physical activity is by being the best role model possible – and by making physical activity fun! It is always more fun when the adult is getting active with the child instead of just “telling” the child to go play. The goal at this age is to instill a love for movement and being active. This will provide a foundation for a lifetime of success.

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