Toddler-Tailored Workouts

When you think of exercising, you might picture a gym with its rows of treadmills, stair climbing machines, and free weights. Or perhaps you think of someone running or swimming laps. Chances are you don't envision balancing on a curb or a log, tossing a beach ball, or lying on your back while kicking your legs in the air.

If you're the parent of toddler, those are just some of the fun exercises you should picture. Toddlers may seem to burn plenty of calories in their daily routines as they move around, climb, and balance, but that's not always the case.

With sedentary lifestyles becoming more common, it's important to instill good physical and dietary habits early on. Young children are often placed in grocery carts and strollers when they should be walking, and obesity rates have doubled among preschool-age children (ages 2 to 5) in the past 30 years. Since toddlerhood is when habits of physical activity become wired in the brain, here's how you can get your toddler moving in the right direction.

Developmental Milestones

First, understand the typical developmental milestones: By 18 months, most children can walk well, even backwards, go downstairs backwards on hands and knees, and roll objects on a floor. By age 2, most children can run, push a chair into position to get out-of-reach objects, and turn handles to open and close doors. By age 3, they usually can jump, throw overhead, and go up and down stairs by alternating feet.

Parents play a major role in helping toddlers attain motor competency. You are your toddler's favorite playmate, so get physical with him as often as possible.

We cannot just rely on young children and toddlers to get enough activity, says Carolyn Landis, M.D., a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of pediatrics. For most kids, if you give them time and space, they will be active but those opportunities are more rare than they should be.

Try These Exercises

Take advantage of the time you have with your toddler, and try these creative exercises inside or outside:

  • Toddlers love to run and jump, but leaving the ground with both feet at once is harder than you might remember. Let your toddler practice this skill on a bed while holding both hands. When she's mastered it, use masking tape to make a square on the floor and ask her to jump in and out of it.

  • Take a walk in the woods and let your toddler balance on a log, while holding your hand. Help him climb rocks to be as tall as you. Or, let him balance on a curb all by himself. Go to a playground that has steps or ladders and slides. Use sidewalk chalk to draw a huge spiral and encourage him to run to the middle, then turn around and run back out.

  • Put a yoga mat on the floor to signal that it's time to move. Lie on your back and kick your legs in the air, and ask your toddler to do it too. Put a sticker on the mat and starting on all fours, have her touch her nose to it 10 times. Do somersaults.

  • Play group games such as Follow the Leader, Ring Around the Rosie, and Duck, Duck, Goose. Throw a beach ball or use pinwheels to catch the wind. Make an obstacle course inside or outside. Play tag.

  • Give your toddler a small broom and dust cloth, and let her help with the housework. Use music to pick up your moods and occupy your toddler while you're making dinner. You'll both be dancing and laughing while getting in shape.

  • When it's time to quiet down, read a book together about an athlete or sport. She'll go to sleep knowing that physical exercise is important.