Should my toddler exercise?

by | Nov 22, 2020

An exercise programme? For toddlers? It’s not so much about formal exercise as getting your kids active from the start, writes fitness expert Potso Mpandawana.

You are probably thinking … should my toddler exercise? They are only two years old! That surely can’t be right.

Let’s start here: what is exercise? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is:

  1. An activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.
  2. An activity carried out for a specific purpose.

I would like to home in on both descriptions, because they are both important. Exercise requires physical effort and our little ones already engage in so much physical movement on a daily basis. They literally run around all day long without always showing signs of fatigue. That helps to improve their health and development.

Second, exercise is carried out for a specific reason and for our toddlers, the purpose is not building muscle or losing weight, but helping their gross motor skills, co-ordination, balance, posture and what every mom wants: better sleep. These factors should be the motivation for coming up with ways to keep your toddler active.

You are probably wondering how much exercise your toddler needs to do, because you’re pretty busy yourself, and fitting in a routine for them to exercise can be a bit challenging.

Getting started

I start by encouraging parents to be active themselves, because with toddlers, or even kids in general, it’s always monkey see, monkey do. So, Mom and Dad, it starts with you.

Include your toddler in a safe, short jogging session in a suitable pram or take a walk with them. Alternatively, you can keep it indoors and put on a YouTube exercise video and encourage them to do squats with you or jogging on the spot, etc. These little movements and actions are part of exercise for them.

It is important to mention that exercise for toddlers falls under active play. So we need to really set out play activities that keep them busy and moving about. The guidelines say that at least three hours of active play, and this varies and changes as the child grows.

For now (during lockdown) with your toddler, you can certainly fit in those three hours throughout the day, which will include various forms of play such as: structured play with an adult as well as unstructured play, meaning independent play.

Make it fun

To help your child enjoy the activities, try not to structure them in such a way that they scream, “Exercise!” Make it fun for them; it must be part of the play time. Toddlers older than two, and sometimes even at 18 months old should be able to run and walk. Activities that work for them would include kicking the ball and running after it. These are great fun and also help them to engage with their parents.

My little one is a totally outdoor bunny. One of the games I play with her, which also helps me stretch my legs after a long day, is running from one side of the garden to the other. I pretend that I’m chasing her and this gets her very happy, energetic and excited. She doesn’t know it’s a form of exercise.

Another active play idea can be hide and seek in the house, or simply dancing and singing along to their cartoons and making it fun and interactive. Nursery rhymes such as “Head, shoulders knees and toes” are a great way to get involved. Do the moves with your little one – and yes, that includes bending down and touching your toes. Most adults have tight hamstrings and lower back problems because they sit down most of the day. Take advantage of TV time and interact, play and dance with your little one.

Activity ideas to do with your toddler:

  • Hopping around like a frog
  • Mini “catch me if you can” runs in the garden
  • Dancing together
  • Playing soccer
  • Trying to catch the ball
  • Use of different cones and building a mini course that’s age appropriate
  • Riding a bike or scooter ( age appropriate )
  • Exploring your garden. Be creative and play games such as let’s find a flower, or water the garden together
  • Swimming with supervision

These are just some ideas you can use to be active with your little person. Active play requires you to be creative in order to keep your little one entertained, but it also helps them with their creativity, developing their imagination and their cognitive and emotional strength.

It all starts with the parent, so try to get active and see it translate into your little ones, while building a healthy, fun, strong relationship. Remember to make exercise part of your whole family’s everyday lifestyle.

Benefits of activity:

  • Strengthens bones, muscles, heart etc
  • Improves co-ordination, balance, posture
  • Better sleep
  • Boosts confidence
  • Skill development