Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Increasing Fitness Levels in Children

Category: Child Care


Children in general are becoming lazier and a lower percentage of children are actively exercising in our society. Year after year we lag behind other societies in the national fitness of our children. Our schools are decreasing the amount of physical activity required of children. Children are spending more and more time watching TV, playing Nintendo and other computer games, and doing more indoor rather than outdoor activities. Free play time seems to be decreasing for our children. It may be part of our society's pace in which both parents are working or single parents are working hard to get by. Because of this they are not able to supervise and get actively involved with their children's playtime.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has several recommendations regarding fitness in children and infants. In general, they do not recommend formal programs for infants but rather encourage parents to provide a healthy environment for their children to play in. Children less than three or four years of age should not participate in swimming programs because of danger of swallowing too much water and developing a low sodium level or hyponatremia. This can even lead to seizures several hours after swimming class.

Another potential problem for infants in swimming programs is giardia. This is an infection in the small intestine which can be transmitted by swallowing lots of contaminated pool water. Young children, particularly under a year, should be cautiously observed around pools, bath tubs and ditches, and never left unattended.

Regarding toddlers and preschoolers, parents can get involved in playing with their children in games in and out of the house. As the child gets older he can play with other children outdoors, in the yard, at preschool centers or day care, or in the neighborhood. Emphasize "free play" by the children rather than play that is rigidly structured by adults. Good family time with children, exploring around the neighborhood, walking, hiking or just being together outdoors is ideal.