Getting Your Toddler to Exercise Outdoors
Getting your toddler outdoors to exercise is like getting a bird to fly — it’s just so natural that many kids wouldn’t dream of not doing it. Consider, for example, the following outdoor games kids are motivated to play (and notice that they all do qualify as “exercise” because they build stronger, leaner bodies):
Playing soccer, Wiffle ball, and kickball
Climbing trees, monkey bars, and jungle gyms
Riding a tricycle
Taking adventure walks in the woods (also known as hiking and snowshoeing)
Yet a toddler who is used to spending most of the day watching TV may think the outdoors is a foreign country, where she doesn’t dare venture. It’s up to you to change that mindset, showing your child how much more fun playing is than watching Nickelodeon.
Take your kids along when you exercise
If you bring your toddler along when you exercise, you may feel as though your workout will suffer, but if you leave her at home, you’re missing a tremendous opportunity to get her hooked on lifelong fitness. What’s a fit parent to do?
Bring her along. Although you may decide to supplement with an extra workout on your own a few days per week, you can “work out” with your toddler and still stick to your exercise goals. You just have to change your mindset about what defines “exercise.” If you’re a runner, what about playing 20 minutes of tag, instead, in which you do most of the running around and take long loops around your yard? If you like to walk, what about alternating ten minutes of power walking with your toddler in the running stroller with five minutes of strolling hand-in-hand with your child, and repeating this three or four times? If you normally do aerobics, what about putting on dance music and cutting a rug with your child?
With kids, focus on fun exercise
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help your child decide how she defines “fun,” and proceed accordingly. Don’t get too tied up in exercise as you may define it — no toddler ever needs to work out on an elliptical trainer or treadmill. But skipping, hiking, dancing, playing pool games, practicing gymnastics, playing soccer, and doing a host of other activities keep kids moving.
When it looks like exercise, smells like exercise, and tastes like exercise, it’s probably exercise. You won’t fool your child by taking an inherently boring activity — say, running on a treadmill or swimming laps — and repackaging it by calling it a game. The point is to actually play a game (soccer, say, or sharks-and-minnows) with your child and dispense with adult ideas about exercise. You may enjoy power walking, but your child probably won’t; instead, you can both build strength and become more energized by playing a game of duck, duck, goose with you and the neighborhood kids.
Focus on fun, and you and your child will both get a great workout in the process. Don’t worry about technique or pace; instead, just keep moving and having fun. If your child tires after 10 or 15 minutes, that’s okay; you and your child may be able to get in three 15-minute, no-pressure game-playing sessions every day, and that’s an impressive amount of exercise for both of you.