by Susan Adarme
Physiotherapist | Colombia

Physical inactivity is a global phenomenon that is expanding at an increasing rate around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2010 that 60% of the world’s population is not physically active enough to achieve health benefits. Particularly affected are children and adolescents, possibly as a result of the increase in the time-often exceeding three hours a day-spent in front of a screen in activities such as watching television, using the internet, and playing computer and video games. Another factor, among others, that has been studied is the low motivation of parents, especially the mother, to encourage physical activity.

Promoting a physically active lifestyle as part of the daily routine is essential from an early age. Doing so improves the physical condition of the child, boosts musculoskeletal and cardio-respiratory health, lowers the risk of obesity, and improves school performance and the state of mind. All of this makes physical activity a primary tool in the prevention of diseases, both in childhood and adolescence as well as in later life. If physical activity is medicine, then inactivity causes disease.

Physical activity by the family reinforces good habits in the child and adolescent. Parents should be role models by planning family activities in which everyone participates. It is vitally important to have fun while developing motor skills that will continue into adulthood. Therefore, it is important that parents know the benefits of engaging in physical activity with their children as recommended by WHO, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP).

The importance of promoting physical activity from an early age, “from day one,” is clear in the latest WHO guidelines on physical activity in children aged 0-5 years, published in 2019. According to these guidelines, infants should be physically active several times a day by participating in interactive floor-based play (see the table below) and should not be restrained in strollers, high chairs, or baby carriers for more than one hour at a time. Newborns should spend at least half an hour a day in a prone position (tummy time) while awake. WHO recommends that babies, beginning at age one, participate in at least 780 minutes of physical activity per day and, from age three, at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity. For example, these children should play games that involve running and jumping, like the following traditional ones: hopscotch, cat and mouse, jump rope, musical chairs, wheelbarrow, acting out nursery rhymes, etc.

Exercises for Infants Up Through Six Months

FROM 0 TO 3 MONTHS

  • Lay the baby on his back, place your hands on the soles of his feet, and bring the baby’s knees to his chest.
  • Lay the baby on his back and put your thumbs onto his hands, so that he presses on them while lifting himself slightly.
  • Lay the baby on his back, take his hands, and move them around.
  • Lay the baby on his stomach and catch his attention with a favorite toy or familiar object. The object can be moved back and forth so that the baby moves his head.

FROM 3 TO 6 MONTHS

  • Move the joints: Lay the baby on his back and bring his knees to his chest alternately (as if pedaling).
  • Stimulate hand grasping: Lay the baby on his back, give him your thumbs so that he grasps them and slowly gets into a sitting position with the least possible help.
  • Rolling: Lay the baby on his back and make it easier for him to flip from back to front and vice versa, until he returns to the initial position with the least possible help.
  • Grabbing: Give the baby toys of different sizes, textures, and sounds so that he passes them from one hand to the other.
  • Stimulate balance: Hold the baby by the armpits, moving him in different directions.

Here is a summary of the recommendations given by the Physical Activity Committee of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics addressed to those between five and seventeen years of age.

  1. Practice moderate or vigorous physical activity for at least sixty minutes per day This can be distributed into two or more sessions, mostly aerobic, and combined with vigorous activities for muscle and bone strengthening three times a week. Physical activity for more than sixty minutes a day provides additional health benefits.
  2. Avoid a sedentary life style. Any type of daily activity- such as walking, riding a bike, etc.-is a better option than staying still. The sedentary screen time of the child or adolescent, spent in front of the television or any other electronic devices, should be limited as much as possible.
  3. Group activities are highly recommended. They are fun, can often take place outdoors, and provide a positive reinforcement, making it possible to incorporate them as a “fun, daily, and healthful habit.” Extracurricular activities are very useful for this purpose.Moderate-intensity Aerobic Physical Activity, such as walking at a brisk pace (over 3.7 mph) and cycling (70-72 mph). This increases the feeling of warmth and starts a slight sweat; it also increases the heart rate and breathing rate, but you can still talk without feeling short of breath.

    Vigorous-intensity Aerobic Physical Activity, like running and cycling fast (12-73.5 mph). The feeling of heat and sweating is stronger. The heart rate is higher, and it is harder to breathe, making it difficult to talk while practicing.•

by Susan Adarme
Physiotherapist | Colombia

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