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Increasing Physical Activity During Preschool Years

Your preschool-aged child may seem like she has an endless supply of energy, enough to keep her active for most of the day and night. Too often, that energy never gets used. Because preschoolers frequently spend hours a day in front of the TV, their high energy levels go to waste, giving rise to an increased risk of becoming overweight. Today’s children are 4 times less active in their day-to-day lives than their grandparents were. That kind of statistic is troubling and calls for some parental intervention.

As we’ve emphasized, you need to do more than modify your child’s eating habits to help promote weight loss. Another effective way of combating obesity is to keep your child physically active. During a child’s preschool years, you should encourage free play as much as possible, which will help her develop motor skills. At this age, improving coordination will make your child more agile and allow her to participate in games and activities with greater skill. Even more important than turning to highly structured activities, find safe and adult-supervised opportunities where your child has time for unstructured play, which is crucial to development. In a real sense, play is a child’s work, and it is key to helping her grow physically as well as socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Watch your child during these times of spontaneous play and you’ll see how her motor skills are improving. Rather than darting aimlessly from one activity to another, she’ll be much more  interested in (and capable of) playing tag with other kids or riding her tricycle for long periods. She’ll become adept at catching a bounced ball and throwing a ball overhand. She’ll run, skip, hop, jump, and walk up and down stairs without holding onto a rail. She’ll perform somersaults and climb on playground apparatuses. She’ll also develop creativity and problem-solving abilities, learn to cooperate with playmates, and discover the world around her.

Provide your child with age-appropriate play equipment, from balls to plastic bats, to make exercise fun, but let her choose exactly what to play with at any given time.When you’re planning family time, schedule family physical activities whenever possible, whether going for a bicycle or tricycle ride on the nearby bike path, kicking a soccer ball back and forth in the local park, or playing catch in the backyard. Remember, parents are important role models for physical activity.

Keep in mind that your preschooler’s physical skills are developing far faster than her good judgment. Her playtime needs to be supervised, particularly to keep her from dangerous situations like chasing a ball into the street.

Last Updated
A Parent's Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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