Easy ways to get your toddlers more active
If you're the parent of a toddler, you might assume that getting him or her to sit still is more of an issue than encouraging them to be more active. After all, what mum or dad hasn't sat down exhausted at the end of a long day, having been run ragged by a little one with boundless energy?
However, even if you think your toddler is achieving plenty of exercise, it's vital to get them moving even more regularly if they're to reap the benefits and stave off health problems later in life.
Research has shown that active kids not only tend to maintain healthier weights, but also sleep better and feel happier than their couch potato peers. Furthermore, a recent US-based study found that youngsters who were always on the go were consistently brighter than obese children.
Experts recommend that children who can walk unaided should be physically active for at least three hours throughout the day, and that they shouldn't be sedentary for longer than an hour at a time. Broken down further, at least 30 minutes' worth of adult-led, structured physical activities is recommended for tots aged between 12 and 36 months each day, on top of another minimum of 60 minutes of free play.
Fortunately, that doesn't mean shipping them off to the gym to pound a treadmill; there are lots of fun ways of ensuring toddlers don't spend too long sitting down.
Fit exercise into everyday activities
Get into the habit of walking with your child whenever possible, for example, on a trip to the shops instead of taking the car. You can enjoy pointing out objects on the way and help him or her practise their language, balance and coordination skills. If you go into a department store, take toddlers up the stairs rather than jumping straight onto the escalator too.
At home, you can dance to the radio together, get involved with some simple gardening and play games in which you they have to retrieve particular objects after you name them.
Play together imaginatively
Simply running around the park or garden is always an option for upping physical activity levels, but playing specific games will hold their attention for longer, not to mention being more fun for you.
Why not spend some time leaping around with a bat and ball, or hold races with them on ride-on toys and you running alongside?
Installing a climbing frame is another really easy way of getting toddlers out into the garden, because they will be itching to clamber around it and test their newly acquired skills - you'll simply have to help them up and down.
Don't forget the allure of a slide either, as youngsters will happily spend hours going up and down, exerting their bodies without even realising.
Up the stakes with rewards
Of course, playing is hugely rewarding for toddlers in itself, as they'll be learning new skills, having fun and spending time with you.
But if you want to ensure they stick at their activities and aren't even tempted to wander off to do something else, you could always offer them rewards for completing tasks.
On a summer's day, it would be really exciting for children to see a mini assault course set up in their garden, which they had to complete as though they were little Olympians. It's not difficult to do either; simply establish a circuit and specify tasks at each stage.
For example, you could start with a slide, then move on to a tunnel that tots have to wriggle through. The next stage might be a mat on which you instruct them to do 15 star jumps, stand on one leg or bounce a ball for ten seconds, followed by a hopscotch course marked out with chalk (or colourful markers on grass).
A final lap around the garden on a scooter before arriving back at the slide is all it takes for children to feel a real sense of achievement. The reward doesn't have to be too complicated either - a bedtime 15 minutes later than usual, a packet of crayons, a comic or the chance to do some baking of biscuits will suffice for the 'winner'.
Keeping toddlers active will help them develop healthy habits as older kids and into adulthood - and parents will benefit from sleepy offspring when bedtime rolls around!