Ways to Get Kids Psyched About Fitness

by Maura Rhodes

Ways to Get Kids Psyched About Fitness

Kid-friendly crazy-fun activities guaranteed to instill a lifelong love of exercise. 

Now it’s time to think about upping the amount of activity your family gets each day. Since when do tykes who are barely out of diapers (or perhaps still in them!) need to “work out”? “As soon as they can crawl!” says Avery Faigenbaum, Ed.D., a professor of health and exercise science who specializes in pediatrics at The College of New Jersey, in Ewing. But of course we aren’t talking about the same sort of fitness routine you put yourself through (or think about, anyway). Exercise tot-style is really all about the physical play that young kids engage in pretty much whenever they have a chance. “Children this age are innately active,” says Faigenbaum, “but in a very different way than adults are. You’ll never see a child jog for thirty minutes without stopping. He’ll run around for five or ten seconds, stop, then run again.”

And that’s just as it should be. The workout objectives of toddlers and preschoolers are different from the fitness goals of grown-ups; little kids don’t need to get their heart rates into a certain range, for example. Sure, activity is important for building stamina, strengthening bones and muscles, and honing balance and coordination. But at this age, it’s most vital for developing fundamental movement skills — running, jumping, throwing, catching, kicking, climbing, and the like — and establishing healthy habits. “Negative and positive behaviors are ingrained in early childhood,” notes Faigenbaum. And that applies to exercise. Your kid is a natural fitness buff (does she ever really sit still?!). The trick is to keep her that way. “A body in motion tends to stay in motion,” says personal trainer and Parenting Mom Squad member Larysa DiDio of Pleasantville, NY, the coauthor of Sneaky Fitness: Fun, Foolproof Ways to Slip Fitness Into Your Child’s Everyday Life. On the following pages, you’ll find a guide to the physical milestones the 5-and-under set should achieve, great toys that will help them do it, and a menu of activities to keep it all fun. The goal: to set your child up for the healthiest future possible. Let’s get started!

Fit Milestones: What Most Kids Can Do?

By the end of the second year:

  • Walk without holding your hand
  • Pull a toy while walking
  • Carry a toy while walking
  • Begin to run
  • Stand on tiptoe
  • Kick a ball
  • Climb onto and down from the sofa
  • Walk up and down stairs holding on to support


By the end of the third year:


  • Climb well
  • Walk up and down stairs, alternating feet
  • Kick and direct the motion of a ball
  • Run easily
  • Pedal a tricycle
  • Bend over easily without falling


By the end of the fourth year:


  • Hop and stand on one foot for up to five seconds
  • Go up and down stairs without help
  • Kick a ball forward
  • Throw a ball overhand
  • Catch a bounced ball most of the time
  • Move forward and backward with agility


By the end of the fifth year:


  • Stand on one foot for ten seconds or longer
  • Hop
  • Do somersaults
  • Pump on a swing
  • May be able to skip


Ways to Sneak in Exercise

exercise table