We all know that it’s important to stay active, but it may surprise you to learn that your baby or toddler benefits from daily activity too. Health experts suggest that infants should spend 60 minutes every day doing some kind of physical activity, and not spend more than 60 minutes at any one time being sedentary. It doesn’t have to be a sport as such – just something that gets them up and moving.
Why it’s important to keep your infant active
Physical activity in infants is all about safeguarding their health – not just in the present, but for their futures too. Today, about 1/3 of children aged 2-15 years old are overweight or obese; 4.1% of pupils are considered dangerously overweight by the time that they leave primary school, compared to just 2.35% of reception pupils. The statistics suggest that children begin gaining weight readily over the course of their childhood; the fact remains that many of them haven’t been set up to understand or enjoy physical activity in their infancy, leading them to adopt an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle as they grow up.
The National Guidelines on Physical Activity for Ireland recommend that all children and young people should be active, at a moderate to vigorous level, for at least 60 minutes every day.
By introducing your little one to physical activity early on, you’re setting them up to reap the benefits as they get older, which includes:
- Having strong muscles and bones
- Staying within a healthy weight range
- A decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Improved sleep
- The ability to stay motivated and focused
- Gaining confidence in sports, academic and social settings
Physical activity for newborns
Although it may not seem like it (especially when they’re very small), there are actually plenty of ways you can help to develop your baby’s motor skills from the get-go.
During the first month of their life, your baby will spend most of their time eating or sleeping. However, you can still prepare them for an active future by demonstrating a healthy lifestyle just by doing a few simple activities together:
- Walk around the house whilst holding your baby close; interact with them as you say aloud the things around you.
- Take your baby out for a walk in their pram so that they get used to the outdoors.
- Carry your baby in a sling whilst you partake in some light exercise. There are baby-wearing workout programmes designed for new mums, although postpartum exercise should only begin when you’re ready; too much too fast can be harmful to your joints and ligaments after giving birth.
- Of course, baby swimming is an ideal way to keep them active; it’s perfectly safe for babies to start swimming from birth, though new mums are advised to wait 6 weeks before getting into the pool – especially if they’ve had a caesarean section of perineal tear whilst giving birth. Book your next Water Babies swimming lesson here.
Tummy time for babies
Tummy time is an ideal way to get your baby moving and building their muscle strength whilst they’re still tiny. Placing them on their stomach when they’re awake and supervised will help your baby to develop strong neck and shoulder muscles, and promote their motor skills. It’ll also prevent your baby’s head from developing flat spots (known as positional plagiocephaly).
It is thought that babies who don’t get enough tummy time during their infancy may be slower to develop, taking longer to reach those important milestones than those who do. It’s crucial for helping your little one to master basic skills like lifting their head or turning over.
You can introduce tummy time from birth; in fact, it’s advisable to do so. Start by placing your baby on your chest or lap for a few minutes at a time; this will help them to become familiar with the position. Remember not to do it right after feeding as it’ll cause your baby to spit up; they’ll get the most out of tummy time activities when they’re at their most awake or alert – like after a nap. Engage with your baby by smiling, talking or singing to encourage them to reach out, kick their legs and look around – the more movement, the more they’re building up those muscles!
Physical activity for toddlers
The HSE suggests that toddlers should be having at least 3 hours of physical activity spread throughout the day, building up towards at least 1 hour of energetic play by 5 years of age. This can include light activity such as walking, running, dancing, hopping, skipping or cycling. Being active can help your child to have a healthy body, develop self-confidence and improve learning and attention.
Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, physical play is crucial for your toddler’s health and fitness, and their cognitive development too. Plus, parents can prepare themselves for a few more restful nights; your little one will almost certainly sleep better after having had a more active time during the day.
Although most toddlers are naturally active, research has shown that some are only active for 2-2 ½ hours each day. One of the easiest ways to get your tot moving is to reduce their screen time; experts suggest that children aged 2 or more shouldn’t be getting more than one hour of screen time every day. It’s recommended that babies and toddlers under 18 months aren’t exposed to mobile or desktop devices at all.
Increase your toddler’s physical activity each day by taking these simple steps:
- Rather than using a buggy every time you head out, let your little one walk with you.
- Go the park together so they can run around, climb or swing.
- A selection of toys will help to develop your toddler’s co-ordination; encourage them to play with, pick up or organise their toys – this will also help to develop the muscles in their arms and hands.
- Involve your child in everyday tasks, such as unpacking the shopping or tidying up.
- Play music in the home and encourage your little one to dance.
Physical activity as a family
It’s not rocket science; the best way to assure that your baby or toddler really does achieve physical literacy, is making sure that the whole family stays active. This doesn’t mean that you need to be spending every day at the gym – in fact, we think it’s best if you spend some time being active together. Family-friendly activities like walking to a park, visiting a museum, cycling or swimming are going to keep everyone healthy.