In the first in this series, we look at how to help put a stop to childhood obesity by giving kids the very best active start in their early years
With obesity at an all-time high, these early years can often prove pivotal in getting your kids into good habits and shaping their view of fitness for life.
Anyone who has children who prefer watching CBeebies or flicking through an iPad to going outside will know activity is not always top of their agenda, so we asked some of the country’s top experts for their tips regarding exercise for children, raising healthy kids and how to get them hooked on fitness as early as possible.
2 to 5-year-olds
Children’s Fitness Specialist and Get The Gloss Expert Lucy Miller explains that at this age, the emphasis should be on fun but with some level of structure included too. She recommends at least 30 minutes of adult-led activity a day with at least 60 minutes unstructured activity such as free play.
Key skills to develop
Hand-to-eye co-ordination and motor skills
Pathways in the brain
Confidence and self-esteem
As a rough guide, Lucy suggests that by age two, toddlers should be able to walk and run well, kick a ball and jump. By three, they should be able to balance briefly on one foot, kick a ball, throw and catch a ball and ride a tricycle. Parents should keep these objectives in mind when playing with children and encourage them to engage in games and sports to develop these abilities.
To make it fun, Lucy recommends obstacle courses with cushions or playing outside with balls, varying the game each time to keep it interesting. A game of Simon Says develops communication and concentration skills, confidence and co-ordination as they listen and follow instructions.
If you’re looking for classes, Lucy recommends checking out www.fitkid.co.uk , which offers classes and events aimed at encouraging young children to get into exercise. Gymboree is also a highly effective and fun way to engage children as it combines music, movement and imagination in an active environment. Virgin Active and David Lloyd sports centres have crèches and children’s facilities too.
In London, Fitness and Nutrition Expert James Osborn recommends Playball in Wimbledon , which offers a variety of ball-focused activities for various age groups from 2-8 yrs old aimed at developing co-ordination and motor skills.
6 to 7-year-olds
Lucy recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day: brisk walking, running, cycling or swimming. This should be combined with gymnastics, swimming or running at least three days a week to build bone density.
Key skills to develop
Kicking, throwing, catching, jumping
Understanding and following rules
As they’re older and can concentrate for longer, parents can give them a little more responsibility and incorporate imaginative and creative approaches towards fitness. “I usually do some of the more regular stretches, tell them what they are called and what muscle they are stretching and then ask them to make up a new way of stretching that muscle in a safe way. They can be very creative! They also respond well to responsibility, so I will pick a game such as Follow The Leader and get them to take it in turns to be the leader – or the commander!” she says.
Encourage them to take part in relays and circuits. Again, nothing too regimented and there needs to be an element of fun. Steve Mellor , Head of Personal Training and Nutrition at Freedom2Train says: “Extra-curricular activities are key as they lay good foundations for future sporting ability, allowing children to mature and further social and physical development.” James Osborn points out: “At this age, children have a better understanding of their body and spatial awareness and can do more structured training, such as kicking a ball into a goal.” He adds: “The emphasis is more on how to kick a ball and developing ability. It’s best that they pick up these skills earlier rather than later, otherwise they’ll be playing catch-up.”
Lucy recommends football, mini-rugby or gymnastics. www.fitforsport.co.uk provides great information on after-school clubs and activities. Also check out www.nhs.uk/Change4Life for more fitness inspiration.
Steve also recommends Little Foxes Club . This sports coaching club in London provides classes for pre-toddlers and school-age children, tailored to particular age bands.
8 to 10-year-olds
It’s important to capitalise on the abilities they've developed so far.
Key skills to develop
Fundamental movements and overall motor skills such as co-ordination and speed
Learning skills. Children are very receptive at this age, they will pick up skills (called stem skills) that can be used into adulthood
Lucy recommends children aim to do at least 60 minutes of exercise involving high-intensity bursts of running and jumping. They respond well to organised play at this stage. However, it is still important to ensure activities are fun so that they remain engaged. It’s best to strike a balance between activities that are enjoyable but progressively difficult, such as clubs and the introduction of jumping over obstacles and reaction drills such as throwing and catching when moving. Lucy also recommends body-weight exercises such as press-ups at about age 10. Sounds tough, but the key is to make it as fun as possible. “I always do body-weight exercises, such as press-ups or sit-ups, but make these fun by doing as many reps as you can in 30 seconds or including them in fun circuit sessions.”
Steve Mellor also recommends trying summer camps and other forms of structured training so that your kids can identify sports they really enjoy. Consult your local council and your children’s school to see what’s going on in your area. Lucy also suggests parkrun – 5k fun runs that take place every Saturday in local parks all over the UK. Parents will be thrilled to hear that they can join in too(!) as can the family dog. And as an added bonus, cakes and drinks are provided at the end.