You know your energetic tot craves activity. You can barely keep her from moving long enough to achieve the simplest tasks like clipping a mere fingernail, wiping her face, or even snapping a quick photo. But do you know how to channel her endless energy into exercise? According to the National Association of Sport and Physical Education, your toddler should be logging 30 minutes of structured exercise (a planned physical activity such as a game of kickball or a tricycle ride) and at least an hour of unstructured exercise (like a session of free play at the park) every day. The reasons for this mandate are overwhelming: Kids who are active not only sleep better and are better able to maintain a healthy weight, but they’re also much happier than couch potatoes (or tater tots). What’s more, active toddlers are more likely to stave off heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer as they get older.
So how can you make sure your tot gets the exercise she needs? Before you start worrying that an exercise plan may include costly gymnastic lessons or endless hours of carpooling to the community pool, relax. Exercise comes in many forms, and it doesn’t have to cost you a penny.
Here’s how to encourage your toddler to get moving:
Step outside. Whatever the weather, just being out in the fresh air and basking in the sunshine will inspire your child to get moving. Take your toddler to a playground where she can climb, jump, and run. If the park is too far, play a game of tag in your own yard. Stock the garage with toys that will keep your toddler active, such as a tricycle, riding toys, and balls for kicking and throwing. In the summer, teach your tot how to hold a mini tennis racket and hit some balls. In the fall, let your toddler jump in the leaves you’ve raked (it’s a great photo op!) or go apple picking. In the wintertime, teach her to build a snowman and make snow angels. In the spring, take her on her first hike.
Build fitness into your day. Walk to the library or supermarket whenever you can, and be sure to get your toddler out of her stroller so she can walk some of the way, too. If walking to your destination isn’t an option, park the car far from entrances so you and your little one have a built-in mini walk. Another easy way to get a fitness fix: Take the stairs instead of the escalator so you and your toddler have to “step up” your fitness quotient.
Curb the couch-potato lifestyle. As much as you treasure the quiet that comes with a Disney DVD, try to limit your child’s TV time to no more than two hours a day (preferably not in one stretch, since kids this age shouldn’t be sedentary for more than an hour at a time). Remember, there will be even more electronics beckoning to your inquisitive toddler as she gets older, so setting limits on screen time now will help establish healthy habits down the road. One way to use the TV to your advantage: Choose DVDs that encourage your toddler to get up and dance or move along with the characters.
Get in the team spirit. If you do choose to invest a little cash in your toddler’s fitness, consider signing her up for a sports league (like soccer or baseball). If sports isn’t her bag, sign her up for a tumbling class at the gym or a tap class at the local dance studio. Doing an activity with other kids can motivate your toddler that much more to get shakin’.
Set the right example. No matter what you say to your child, the best way to get your toddler active and teach her the importance of exercise is to get yourself moving too. So make family outings adventures that involve swimming, hiking, or walking. Meet for strolls with other moms and tikes in your neighborhood. Hit the gym when you can, or do an exercise video at home so your toddler can see you getting active. You could even sign up for a Mommy and Me dance class or yoga class to give both of you a structured workout. Show your toddler that exercise is a priority for you, and she’ll make it one, too. Get moving!