How to get young children on the move
Every new year there’s always a great deal of promotion of fitness equipment and gym membership – and with good reason. As New Year resolutions kick in, the number of people joining the gym or buying fitness equipment from us soars. There’s perhaps less emphasis on children’s fitness though, and maybe this is the year you’ve decided that fitness should be a family thing - as a parent/guardian or carer you’ll be well aware of the need to help your children get healthy and active - but what sort of activities give best results?
Of course, there are supervised sports and games that children will have been encouraged to do through school curriculum and after school clubs. There are community-based clubs too, giving access to many sporting disciplines like football, rugby, cricket, athletics and more. It’s wonderful to see children trying to emulate their sporting heroes, especially with 2012 on the horizon – and obviously I’m a huge supporter of the physiological skill development and enhancement that organised sport will bring. But it's not for everyone.
In working with children as well as adults, it never ceases to amaze me at how we seem to have forgotten how to simply play. We make assumptions that keeping fit is only about hard work in a gym, or we take forward negative experiences from PE lessons during our own school days.
Not all kids will feel comfortable in the sporting arena, but this doesn’t mean they can’t get involved in physical activity or on their own terms – and though we’ve all heard about an 'obesity epidemic' and the danger of spending too much time playing computer games (with the Wii being the notable exception!), we also know that the motivation and enjoyment has to be there too.
Play and pastimes also provide a great opportunity for them to get active. The benefits of just a couple more hours of activity per week can have a massive positive impact on health, fitness, concentration and motivation for most kids, especially if they tend to have quite sedentary lifestyles. And let's not underestimate the positive influence taking part in activities as a family can have - what better excuse for keeping our 'inner child' alive!
There are different physiological factors at work with different age groups, so I’m just going to deal separately with age groups 5-9 years where organised sports can be hard to come by. By necessity, this is a generalisation of the different physical developments of children but you won’t go too far wrong with these overall guidelines.
Fitness for five to nines
Physiological factors are important to consider – bones, muscles, heart rates and body temperature also develop at different rates. At the age of 5-9 your child’s body is extremely supple, but as you probably know their concentration span isn’t extensive!
I remember my daughter at age 8 trying to master a cheerleading sequence that some older girls were doing, but she just couldn’t get it. Yet a few years on, she’s instructing others, and with 10 times more confidence.
By the way, cheerleading is great for all ages, boys and girls, involving co-ordination, balance, strength, stamina, and flexibility. They experience teamwork, goal setting and trust in each other’s ability with a big helping of fun, as well as a competitive outlet for individuals and team.
At this age the development of the body thermostat can be erratic, and basically they can 'overheat' more quickly than older children, but they won’t know that! They just keep going til they run out of steam, so you may need to control timescale and get them to take a breather – and water – frequently. As their attention span is short, limit things to short duration anyway, keeping a constant change of intensity and focus of interest.
Informal games are usually best for 5-9 year olds – anything that involves simple rules and movement is best, especially if it includes running, jumping, swimming or cycling. Rounders and Frisbee are good family activities to get heart and lungs pumping, or even just a simple stitched football.
For co-ordination, the Babalot Nadal Junior tennis racquet has a lightweight design to suit your budding Rafa, whether they have Wimbledon dreams or just enjoy bashing a ball against the garden wall. The good old Swingball can not only pack up and go anywhere, but can also be played solo as well as with a friend.
Skates are another great option and again are brilliant for co-ordination, balance, leg strength and fun! Ditto scooters and skateboards, which are painless to port around and come in a variety of fun colours and designs.