Creative Ways to Make Exercise Fun For Your Child
In the last post, I described in exhausting detail why you want your child with cystic fibrosis to exercise every day (unless they are sick, of course).
In this article, I will outline some specific tips about age appropriate activities that are both fun and healthy for your child as he or she grows through the baby/toddler years. The next post in the series will so the same for preschool and elementary school aged children. Next, I will deal separately with the teenage through transition stage.
Focus On Play With Your Baby and Toddler
Just look at the face of this child! Does she look happy or what? The first couple years of life should be fun, fun, fun when it comes to exercise. The best breathing exercise I can imagine is that of a baby laughing uncontrollably! It’s exercise! Really. If you don’t think I’m right, watch this video (heck, watch it anyway…it’ll make you smile).
Stability Ball Games
I am a big fan of stability balls like the one shown at the top of this post. They are great tools to use for home exercise. They only cost around $20 or so, and can replace a bench as well as serve as a prop in many, many core strengthening exercises. Not only that, but imaginative kids can come up with all kinds of games to play with these things. Take it from me, who has had to replace her “this-is-mine-you-are-not-to-use-it- for-any-reason” ball at least five times due to poppage or fly over the fence-age.
For a baby or toddler, I highly recommend holding him or her as you bounce gently on the ball, making sure it is fun and not frightening. Hint: Get the “burst proof” variety when you buy a ball. It’s a bit more expensive, but worth it unless you want to pay for years of therapy. You can also do it like the father in the above picture (if you have a good grip). When I saw this picture, I immediately thought, “Wow, what a great opportunity for some light chest compressions if this kid had CF.” Yes, I am a bit twisted.
Another way to do this same thing without hands on assistance is to put your baby in a doorway jumper and watch them go as you cook dinner. Now if they could rig up a teenie little Vest to put on Baby while in this thing….
Strengthen That Little Core
There is not a more overused word in the fitness industry than “core.” Well…maybe “dude.” The core includes all of the muscles that stabilize the spine and move the hips. If you understand anatomy, you know that this includes a lot of muscles…not just the abdominal muscles that create your six-pack abs. The core includes all of the para-spinal muscles of the back, all of the abdominal wall muscles, the pelvic floor muscles and the hip flexors (psoas and quadriceps) and extensors (gluteals and hamstrings). So, really, the core includes a large percentage of the body’s musculature.
Why does your little tyke need a strong core? First, we all do. But in addition, it is important to have a strong core when you are gearing up for a life of coughing. Ok, that sounded pessimistic. I don’t mean it that way. But while we are waiting for the ultimate CF cure, there is a good chance your child will cough more than the average kid. Over time (believe me) this takes a toll on the back, the pelvic floor, and the chest wall. Starting your child off in life by strengthening this area is a wise move.
Now is not the time to encourage sit ups, though. You encourage back extensor (those spine stablizers) muscles to work by putting your child on his or her tummy. Babies naturally arch up to look around…they do the baby version of locust pose in hatha yoga. They know what to do. So tummy time is important for your baby. Just remember to keep in mind that if there are any issues with reflux, it is best to wait a couple of hours after a feeding.
Speaking of yoga, it is never too early to start working on chest wall flexibility. When your child is slightly older, old enough to watch you and copy you, or watch a video, there are some great yoga for kids products out there. The poses have fun names, usually based on animals, and are fun to do with them. Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Helen Garabedian and Little Yoga: A Toddler’s First Book of Yoga by Rebecca Whitford tare both geared for toddlers.
The most important thing to do with your child at this age is to help them associate exercise with fun and bonding with you. The earlier these neual pathways are established, the better. When pre-school and elementary years come, this continues to be the most important thing. But more on that next time.