Is your toddler getting enough physical activity?

There is a lot of talk about how to feed your children a healthy diet but there is less talk about ensuring your child is active.
These benefits of an active lifestyle are present even in early childhood with more active toddlers having lower cardiovascular risk factors (Saakslahti et al 2004), improved bone health (Binkley & Spencer 2004) and better cognitive, social and emotional development (Colwell & Lindsey 2005). There is also evidence that lack of activity in toddlerhood tracks on into childhood and adulthood with all the associated implications (Jenkz, Burns & Levy 2005).
Toddlers are by their nature active beings and when it seems like they are going all the time you may think the last thing you need to do is encourage them to be active. In fact you're probably much too busy encouraging them to sit still. But here's a wake up call for you.
Toddlers and preschoolers should be physically active for 3 hours every day (Commonwealth of Australia). 3 hours.
Is your toddler getting that much activity?
I thought so too. So I tracked the amount of active MissC got on two random days.This is how it broke down.

Random weekend day.
Morning outside play: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Random wandering: 50 minutes
Afternoon outside play:  1 hour
Total time: 3 hours, 10 minutes.
This was a day when I thought that we would be well over the allotted time since we had two big outside play times and no activities on yet we only just made it over the recommended time.

Random weekday
Playgroup wandering: 15 minutes
Outside play: 20 minutes
Play date wandering: 1 hour
Walking at shop: 5 minutes
Outside play: 40 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 20 minutes.
Considering how busy this day was I am glad that at least got close to the three hour guideline. However the thing that got us close was that we had had a playdate in the afternoon. If we had had to do an errand that required her to be inactive she would have probably had less than half the recommended activity for the day

I must say I was surprised  that we do not make it over three hours both days. I thought that she would have been active enough to meet the recommendations and if I'm honest our days look mostly like the weekday. This means she is most likely not meeting the required activity levels. I am not alone however, lots of toddlers aren't getting the recommended amount of activity (UK Department of Health 2011; Australian Department of Health and Ageing 2008; Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology).  This can put them on track for a sedentary lifestyle in adulthood and as someone who has done a lot of research in diabetes and heart disease I know how bad the effects of this can be.
A sedentary lifestyle in adulthood is associated with the following diseases

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Diabetes type 2
  • Colon cancer
  • Other cancers
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Not surprisingly quality of life is higher in those who have a more active lifestyle and overall lifespan is longer (Department of Health and Human Services 1996). I for one want to do everything I can to ensure that MissC is on track for an active and healthy life.

So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to try and make more of our days look like the random weekend day.
1. I'm going to up my own physical activity level. Studies have found activity levels in toddlers and preschoolers are high in those who's mothers are more physically active (Xu & Wen 2012). Anecdotally I know MissC will ride her bike for longer if I ride around on a scooter outside with her than if she is left to her own devices.
2. I'm going to try and make this incorporate some more active games and activities inside the house. Physical activity for toddlers is supposed to include a wide range of skills (jumping, galloping, balancing, climbing, kicking, catching) and should involve short intense bursts of higher activity followed by sedentary or low level activity (Commonwealth of Australia). I'm hoping to encourage this more by incorporating more activity into the household.
3. I'm going to minimize the amount of time she spends 'strapped in'. I haven't really used a stroller since MissC learned to walk but I'm going to see if I can cut down on the car trips some more so she spends less time being forced to be inactive. This is also in accordance with guidelines on children's activity levels.
4. I'm going to minimize the amount of time she spends being sedentary. This is a hard one as apart from TV there is obviously  a benefit to their sedentary activities too but I'm going to get her to incorporate some physical activity even into her sedentary activity. This can be as simple as getting her to fetch more books rather than getting them for her.
4. I'm going to keep on an eye on her activity levels. Clearly they're not as high as what I thought they were.

I'll let you know how we go.

Australian Department of Health and Ageing, ACT, Australian Department of Health and Ageing: Discussion paper for the development of physical activity recommendations for children under five years. Canberra: ACT; 2008:1–191.
 Binkley T, Specker B: Increased periosteal circumference remains present 12 months after an exercise intervention in preschool children. Bone 2004, 35:1383–1388.
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology: Canadian physical activity guidelines for the early years. 2012.
Colwell M, Lindsey E: Preschool Children’s Pretend and Physical Play and Sex of Play Partner: Connections to Peer Competence. Sex Roles 2005, 52:497–509.
Commonwealth of Australia. National Fitness Recommendations for Children 0-5. Available online$File/PA%20Rec%200-5%20yo%20-%20Q&A.pdf
Department of Health and Human Services.  Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the
Surgeon General. Atlanta: Department of Health  and Human Services, Centers for Disease  Control and Prevention, 1996.
4. Department of Health and Human S
Janz KF, Burns TL, Levy SM: Tracking of Activity and Sedentary Behaviors in Childhood: The Iowa Bone Development Study. Am J Prev Med 2005, 29:171–178.
UK Department of Health: Making the case for UK physical activity guidelines for early years. 2011:22–24. publications/uk-physical-activity-guidelines
Sääkslahti A, Numminen P, Varstala V, Helenius H, Tammi A, Viikari J, Välimäki I: Physical activity as a preventive measure for coronary heart disease risk factors in early childhood. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2004, 14:143–149.
Xu H, Wen LM: Screen time and physical activity of young children reflects their mother's behaviours: findings from the Healthy Beginnings Trial. Aust N Z J Public Health 2012, 36:396–396.


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