Healthy, Active Lifestyles Begin with Babies

Friday, October 18, 2013

Parents make many lifestyle choices for their children – meal preparation, enrollment in dance classes or sports teams as well as role modeling wellness. And getting an infant to move doesn’t have to be “exercise,” but rather any physical activity that they enjoy at their own pace, says Children’s National pediatrician Lee Beers, MD.

She said she wouldn’t call it “exercise,” which could evoke an image of vigorous athletic training, but activities that are appropriate for their development stage. It doesn’t have to be formal such as a class, but it has to be fun.

“A 6 month old can go on a bike trail with you or a walk in a stroller with you in Rock Creek Park,” she said, adding that it instills in the child that “part of being in this world is that you’re out and you’re active and exercising.”

The goal is not to get a buff baby but to help children establish healthy lifestyles that they continue into adulthood. Studies show children who maintain a daily regimen that includes exercise are less likely to suffer from obesity-related problems when they’re older.

According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 80 percent of children who are obese remain overweight as adults Additionally, a study released last week found a connection between a woman’s pregnancy weight gain and her children’s body weight. Based on data of children in Arkansas, the study found that “the children whose mothers gained more weight during pregnancy had higher BMI scores,” U.S. News and World Report reported.

Here are some tips Dr. Beers offers to find time for babies to exercise:
  • Make sure physical activity is integrated into their daily lives. 
  • Modeling the behavior helps establish routine and is as important as providing activities. “Developing healthy lifestyles at a very young age is really developing interest and a willingness to be active.” 
  • Make sure you go outside regularly. “Being outside in the fresh air, near the trees and in the park really encourages activity because there are so many different sights and sounds to stimulate their curiosity and movement,” says Dr. Beers. 
  • Make sure the setting is comfortable – lighting, temperature, and even sound to make it fun and create positive associations with physical activity. “It can be music or getting down on the floor and playing with them,” she said. Any bonding activity that fosters a feeling of attachment. 
  • Turn off the television as much as possible. “The more screens you have going on inside the house, the less likely they’re moving around in the house,” Dr. Beers said. 
  • Place baby in crib for rest only. As infants learn and develop, it’s important for them to explore, to look around, crawl and pick up things, in a safe environment. Laying babies down when it’s time to rest contributes to establishing sleep schedules while teaching that it is normal to move around and do things when awake.

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