I am frequently asked about child health and fitness by parents during a child’s physical exam. The most common question is when the child should get into a fitness routine. The answer is, earlier than you think. As soon as the child is moving around, the parents should be proving proper nutrition and being an example to the child of staying active and healthy. Even though the child is very young and not yet talking, or asking to go outside and ride bikes and the like, the parent should start bringing the child outside and be active with him or her. Eat properly and take care of yourself. In this way the parents start to develop healthy eating and fitness habits if not already doing so, and therefore a healthy family lifestyle.
Starting at around 18-24 months the child begins to imitate adults performing their daily activities. This can be such common activities as washing dishes, sweeping and cooking. It can also be walking, riding a bike, and even working in the garden. These can all be excellent activities to get the child active and moving. Daily activities will also keep the child craving to move. She will move allowing her to continue to develop her gross motor skills and endurance. Continuing to explore and become more involved with her environment, the child’s passion to explore grows stronger.
As the energy use increases, typically so does the child’s appetite, making her hungry for the more nutritious foods to help her heal her used muscles and grow bigger and stronger. So after any outing provide plenty of water, a few carbohydrates such as crackers but make sure she is given a good protein source such as cheese, yogurt, peanut or other nut butters, as well as eggs, meats, and fish.
Children will follow the example set by their parents and other caregivers, so presenting a healthy lifestyle very early on continues to reinforce this idea. As the child grows older he or she will want to be more active and enjoy a fit and healthy life.