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Exercise + Nutrition = Healthy Growth & Development

Both physical activity and nutrition are important for healthy growth and development.

Exercise + Nutrition = Healthy Growth & Development  »

The first 20 years of life are dedicated to growing up. Remember your grandma saying “Wow, have you ever grown this summer!”.  If there is one thing that is certain about childhood and adolescence, it is the following: rapid growth in height and weight during infancy and early childhood followed by a steady gain in size before the adolescent growth spurt and then a slower increase until adult height is reached. Click here for a great online tool that plots children’s height and weight on the growth chart.

During this period, we also learn how to move about our environment by crawling, walking, throwing, catching, pushing, pulling, hopping, skipping, jumping, and playing games which provides the foundation for good physical activity habits. 

Eating right

Besides being active and exercise, nutrition is also important to child growth.  A healthy diet consisting of the right types of foods in the right amounts are the building blocks to healthy growth and development.

The MyPlate guidelines outline the 5 food groups for a healthy diet - fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and diary.  The MyPlate website for kids also provides fun and educational games, activities, and videos to help explain the importance of good nutrition. However, few Americans meet these recommendations as empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40% of total daily calories for 2–18 year olds. 

Move and eat healthy to prevent health problems

Both physical activity and nutrition are important for growth and body composition (muscle, bone, and body fat) which in turn can effect metabolism and cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.  Currently, 18.5% of youth in the US are obese. Often times, obese children also have poor cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors. In the past decade, there has been an increasing number of youth with type 2 diabetes – once thought to only occur in adults! Again, it is important to know that physical activity and good nutrition reduces the risk of obesity and cardio-metabolic risk factors.

Learn more » Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center (PERC)

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Let’s play! »

Play, which can be defined as activity for enjoyment rather than a serious or practical purpose, is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations as a right of every child.

Play can be both structured or unstructured but a large portion of young children’s (0-5 years of age) movement experience should be unstructured play.  Unstructured play is open-ended and is not adult-led. Unstructured play has no directions or specific learning objective. It is creative, spontaneous free improvisation that allows for the use and exploration of many movement patterns and fundamental movement skills.

Now, this is not to say there is no place for structured play, or play with a purpose. Again, a majority of the 3 hours of recommended movement and play for young children should be unstructured to allow kids to learn what they can and cannot do, and find solutions to movement problems but structured play is beneficial to begin to learn rules and procedures, and also learn, practice and reinforce fundamental movement skills since not everyone learns and masters them naturally.  Structured play may include a game (e.g., Duck, Duck, Goose) or activity to develop a skill (e.g., kicking a soccer ball) but keep in mind that since preschoolers have a short attention span it is suggested that keeping structured play to 10-20-minute blocks.

Let’s play outside!

Research shows that children who spent more time outdoors were more physically active than children who spent less time outdoors along with other physical, cognitive, mental, and social-emotional benefits.

Let’s play: Active parents = active kids

Parents should also be involved in play with their children, as children of active parents tend to be more active and it creates parent-child bonding. But, don’t be a helicopter or lawnmower parent.

Take-Home Message

A physically active lifestyle begins in the preschool years with at least 3 hours of movement and play to develop fundamental movement skills which are the building blocks or ABCs of so many activities, games, and sports. There is no need to plan a lot of structured play for young children – instead, let them engage in unstructured free play. Parents can also be an important role model for young children when it comes to play, physical activity and movement skills.

Need ideas to keep young children active? Visit Active For Life › 

Learn more » Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center (PERC)

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @ucipeds and use the hashtag #KidsExercise #PERC