Active youth become healthy adults. And, according to Barbara Bushman, an ACSM-certified program director and editor of the forthcoming ACSM’s Complete Guide to Fitness & Health (Human Kinetics, May 2011), obesity prevention begins in infancy. “Because youth who are overweight are more likely to become overweight adults,physical activity from an early age can play a key role in developing good health and avoiding unhealthy weight gain,” Bushman says.
As early as infancy, humans begin to understand movement and use it to make sense of their surroundings. “During the first year of life, infants start to develop and repeat movement patterns as muscles learn to respond to information from the brain,” Bushman explains. “Consequently, infants need numerous opportunities to participate in a variety of physical activities that promote skill development and movement competency.”
Bushman recommends that parents and caregivers play with infants several times a day during waking hours and encourage activities that promote the development of basic movement skills such as reaching, grasping, holding, squeezing, crawling, sitting, and standing. Simple games such as pattycake or peek-a-boo and placing objects of different sizes, textures, and colors within or just beyond a baby’s reach not only provide stimulation but also set a framework of physical activity at an early age.
Environment also plays a vital role in establishing healthy physical activity. “Infants should be placed in settings during the day that promote movement and exploration of their surroundings,” Bushman says. She warns against small play environments and placing infants in baby seats or play pens for extended periods because it could precipitate a delay in learning and fundamental behaviors such as rolling over, sitting, crawling, and standing.
“The fact that inactivity and low physical activity patterns tend to be harder to modify with age further emphasizes the need to encourage youth to develop and maintain an active lifestyle,” Bushman stresses. “It is never too early, or too late, to develop good habits.”