Supporting Childhood Physical Health: A Guide for Families

Support Your Child’s Physical Health!

Did you know that children’s brain development is influenced by many health-related factors, including nutrition, physical activity, and toxic stress? That’s why it’s important for parents and caregivers to create routines and environments that support their children’s health. For more information, continue reading below.

The Importance of Exercise

All children should engage in at least one hour of physical activity daily and should not be still for more than 60 minutes at a time. To support physical activity, families should:

    • provide a space where children can safely run and play with toys and equipment (75 square feet is adequate),
    • provide a space for riding tricycles, running, and rolling balls,
    • purchase balls and toys with wheels that can keep a child active,
    • plan activities that promote perceptual motor development, the ability to interact with one’s environment by using one’s senses, and
    • have children dance to nursery rhymes or chants to help them develop rhythm.

Benefits of Exercise

    • Supports the development of children’s fundamental motor skills including walking, throwing, kicking, running, balancing, hopping, and skipping.
    • In addition to helping a child move better, physical activity helps their bodies maintain healthy body weight and build healthy bones, muscles, heart, and lungs.
    • Fights off depression, anger, and anxiety at early stages.
    • Sparks creativity and problem solving.

The Importance of Nutrition

Making healthy food and nutrition choices is a challenge for not only adults, but for children too. A balanced meal can help reduce the risk of many health conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Fresh foods like fruits and vegetables are nutritious options and a great source of fiber. Children’s fruit and vegetable intake per meal should be as follows:

    • Two- to Three-Years-Old
      One cup of vegetables and one cup of fruit daily.
    • Four- to Eight-Years-Old
      One and a half cups of vegetables with each meal, and one and a half cups of fruit daily.
    • Nine-Years-Old and Older
      Two cups of vegetables with each meal, and one and a half cups of fruit daily.

TIP: Smoothies can be fun to make with children. They love to watch whole fruits being crushed up to make juice!

Benefits of Nutritious Food

    • Helps children’s digestive and immune systems stay healthy.
    • Provides a good source of vitamins.
    • Helps to fight infections.
    • Makes wonderful snacks that can be easily packed.

Strategies for a Healthy Routine

Create a schedule that includes time to be active throughout the day.

    • Dance
      A creative and fun way to keep the body moving, get the heart rate up, and promote good blood flow.
    • Tag
      One game that can help promote movement in a fun and fast-paced way.
    • Scavenger Hunt
      A creative way to get children up and moving. This can be done inside or outside. This is a great way to promote exploratory play with younger children.
    • Games
      It’s important to incorporate rules with some games, and to vaguely give directions for others. This helps children learn how to create their own rules which enhances their thinking abilities.
    • Some Rules
      Example: You can only hop during tag; no tagging the person who tagged you; freeze once you’re tagged, etc.
    • Meal Planning
      Create a meal menu. This helps to not only save money, but helps to keep track of the things one is eating. Allow children to help season food, sort food by type or color, and even taste the vegetables before they are cooked. Some children like raw veggies as snacks.

TIP: When making a schedule to support a healthy routine, try to block off time for activities that can be done in a 60-minute timeframe.

Acknowledgments

This document was created by Darnell Campbell, in partnership with Trying Together, as a resource for Part II: Childhood Physical Health of the Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series. Darnell Campbell is a Physical Education Teacher at Winchester Thurston, CPR Instructor, and Personal Trainer.

Developmentally Appropriate Parenting is a family resource content series developed by Trying Together as an effort to empower caregivers to create high-quality experiences at the earliest stages of their child’s life.

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Image: A young child and her caregiver play together joyfully at a local playground, spinning together on a Merry-Go-Round.

Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

Learn more about the series.

 

Picture: A young baby looks up at the camera.
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