Activity and Obesity
Most toddlers have two speeds: Fast and asleep. This is exhausting, but fun. And it turns out, this is also great for their health, not only now but later.
Researchers at the University of Iowa discovered that kids who are active at age five stay lean as they age, even if they don’t remain as active later in childhood. The researchers studied the body fat and activity level of 333 kids at ages 5, 8, and 11, using a scanner that accurately measures bone, fat, and muscle tissue, and an accelerometer that measures movement every minute. The kids wore their accelerometers to record their activity level for up to five days, providing much more reliable data than relying on their parents to track minutes of exercise.
The study found that the average 5-year-old got 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day. For every 10 minutes on top of that, kids had one-third of a pound less fat tissue at ages 8 and 11.
Researchers aren’t sure why activity at age five affects the amount of fat a child carries later. But they think it might be possible that the active five-year-olds didn’t develop as many fat cells, improved their insulin response, or that something happened metabolically that provided some protection even as they became less active.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes of age-appropriate physical activity every day. Because kids’ activity tends to come in short bursts, it can be hard for parents to track. What you can do instead is avoid long periods of sedentary activity—that is longer than one hour. The researchers noted that kids who meet the CDC activity recommendations tend to be kids who spend a fair amount of time outdoors enjoying unstructured play.
The bottom line: Even five-year-olds should be encouraged to be as active as possible because it pays off as they grow older.