Childhood obesity is becoming a major problem in Malaysia. A sedentary lifestyle is a major factor leading to obesity, so encourage your child to have a physically active lifestyle.
If this seems troublesome or unsafe, always ask yourself: is physical activity important for my child’s health now and later as they grow up?
Making physical activity a part of your child’s daily life gives them the maximum benefit in terms of achieving healthy growth and development, better self-esteem, stronger bones, muscles and joints, better posture and balance, and a stronger heart.
Children who maintain a physically-active lifestyle also tend to be in the healthier weight range, have better social interactions with friends, and generally focus and concentrate better in school.
There are many physical activities that can entice or influence your child to be more physically active.
These include simple activities (e.g. walking, running), activities that need equipment (e.g. skating, cycling), and activities that need special facilities (e.g. rock-climbing, jump centres).
If this is the first time that you are getting your child active, do allow them to ease their way into it.
The physical activity should suit their level of physical ability – don’t expect them to run a marathon when they cannot even run five laps around the playground!
Too much too soon can result in injury, so play it safe.
The three different types of activities for healthy growth and development are:
• Endurance or aerobic activities (e.g. running, swimming)
• Flexibility (activities that involve stretching, e.g. ballet, yoga, gymnastics)
• Strength (e.g. climbing, push-ups, pull-ups).
Set an example to interest your child in a physically-active lifestyle!
If you have doubts about their physical capability, talk to their doctor and ask for suggestions on what is suitable.
A qualified fitness trainer can also advise you on suitable frequency, duration, intensity and type of physical activity.
However, physical activity for most young children is mainly about active play and having more opportunities to move around and explore their surroundings.
Other factors that you may consider include:
• Find a suitable activity
If you yourself love hitting the gym or running marathons, be aware that these activities are not developmentally appropriate for young children.
Football, cycling, swimming or a low to medium energy activity would be a good start.
Indoor rock-climbing or trampoline jumping are exciting for kids and improves their motor skills. However, supervision is required.
• Make it fun
Find something that they enjoy and there is every chance they will continue the activity happily, e.g. if your toddler likes to play with water, teach them how to swim.
For best results, get the entire family involved as this is an excellent way of spending quality time together.
As children enjoy being active outdoors, parents must make the most out of this opportunity.
• Plan ahead and think of safety
Activities that involve facilities (e.g. swimming, rock-climbing, jump centres, etc.) usually require some planning, e.g. booking ahead of time, knowing the operation hours, etc.
Safety is another important consideration, e.g. helmets and other safety accessories for cycling, skating or skateboarding.
Check if the sport or activity is safe for your child’s age and whether their clothing and shoes are comfortable and appropriate for the activity.
• Stick with toys that promote activity
Young children especially should be encouraged to play with balls, jump ropes, tricycles, mini trampolines, frisbees, water balloons and other toys that encourage physical activity.
• Limit TV, computer and gadget usage
The recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics is to limit the time young children spend on screen time (as it is a sedentary activity) to not more than one hour per day of high-quality programmes for children between two and five years, and consistent limits for children six years and older.
Media use should never affect adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
• Make time for active play
Avoid overscheduling your child with too many other activities that are not physical in nature, e.g. music classes or other academic-related classes.
Allocate some time for physical activities or sports.
Don’t overdo it
Take care that your child does not overdo or overexert themselves in physical activities.
Remember to tell them to listen to their body. If they feel any pain or discomfort, they should slow down or go for a less vigorous activity.
The same applies for family activities – they should be fun and not made competitive.
Also, do not neglect other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a healthy and balanced diet, and getting enough sleep.
Lastly, don’t forget to work on understanding your child’s psychology.