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Growing Up Fit: Family Fitness by Age & Stage

Childhood may seem to move at a faster pace these days, but children don’t. According to the World Health Organization, up to 80 per cent of the world’s children aren’t getting enough exercise. You can reverse this troubling trend at home, though. These family-fitness tactics for kids of every age will help your brood embrace better health, improved energy and more fun.

Toddler to Preschool Years Two to Five: Family Flex

The good news: toddlers usually get plenty of exercise, says Beverly J. Allen, Ph.D., a professor of Physical Education and Recreation. “Children this age are very active and get the exercise they need from running, jumping, climbing, rolling, bending, pulling, pushing and dancing. Help preschool-age kids get physical by playing tag together, wrestling and asking kids to put away toys one at a time or ferry items up and down stairs.

But don’t encourage copycat workouts - very young kids shouldn’t follow along with their certain grown-up exercises, says Coach Dale Speckman, director and head trainer at Athletic Revolution. “Young children simply aren’t ready for high repetition, high intensity workouts like jogging or interval training,” he says. If kids want to work out with you, do some simple exercises with their own body weight like lunges, planks and squats.

Elementary Years six to 12: Unsportsmanlike Conduct

For kids who like sports, the elementary years bring a whirlwind of new opportunities to stay active, from soccer to softball. But less athletic kids may begin to shirk exercise, particularly if they feel inept at sports. Fortunately, competitive sports play isn’t the only way kids can get needed exercise, says Allen. Parents can encourage kids of all stripes - sports lovers and sports avoiders alike - to get enough exercise by establishing a regular family outing, like ice-skating, swimming or a long outdoor walk, visiting parks and public spaces where kids can be active, and exploring less competitive physical pursuits like biking, skateboarding and gymnastics.

Whatever pastimes kids gravitate toward, it’s important for parents to model that physical activity is enjoyable, says Allen. “Make sure kids have access to fun equipment like skates, Frisbees and hula hoops. And remember that physical activity is important for all children, including those with a disability. Your child’s pediatrician can tell you more about the amounts and types of physical activity that are appropriate for your child’s ability.”

Teen years 13 to 18: Safe Shred

Trend-loving teens may hop on the latest fitness bandwagon to attain a “shredded” (teen-speak for well-defined or muscular) physique. But high intensity workouts like “CrossFit” and “P90x” aren’t suited for teenagers, says Speckman. “CrossFit utilizes many Olympic-style lifts that are extremely technical and require high levels of joint mobility and stability. These technical lifts take several weeks to teach in order to perform safely and effectively.”

Sport injuries are on the rise in children and teenagers, something experts attribute to early sport specialization and teens with still-growing bodies performing too many repetitions - something CrossFit may encourage. Parents of young fitness enthusiasts should seek trainers that are certified in youth fitness, Speckman adds. Even if a trainer has a background in strength or sports training, youth training is vastly different and should be left to a certified professional.

Malia is a nationally published health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well  Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.

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