Growing up, Diane Hayden of Minnetonka, Minn., played volleyball. Years later, when she was starting a family, she began brainstorming ways that her child could be active, too.
Hayden scoured local resources and eventually made good on her wish. At 6 months old, daughter Alexis attended her first baby fitness classes. Now 2 years old, Alexis delights in jumping into an enormous pit of big plastic balls.
"I just knew it was important," said Hayden, who quit her marketing job to be a stay-at-home mom. "She's confident, willing to try things."
Hayden's efforts should please the forces behind the first physical activity guidelines for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. The new report urges parents, pediatricians and caregivers to promote physical activity early and consistently.
"We should always be thinking of physical activity for our kids," said James Pivarnik, an exercise physiologist at Michigan State University and co-author of the report. "It's never too soon to start thinking about it."
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education released the guidelines in hopes of steering children away from a sedentary lifestyle, which can spell serious health problems later in life.
The association's recommendations are common-sense suggestions, not structured rules, Pivarnik said. Sometimes, a child's natural tendency to be active gets checked in favor of safety or convenience.
Confining the small fry to playpens, baby seats and strollers for long periods of time may delay developing skills like rolling over, crawling and walking.
"We use the word 'play' a lot," Pivarnik said. "All we're trying to do is show that it doesn't happen as naturally as people would think."
Babies should interact with their parents or caregivers in ways that allow them to explore their environment.
Babies should be placed in "safe settings" that encourage physical activity and do not restrict movement for long periods of time.
Toddlers should have at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity a day.
Preschoolers should have at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity a day.
Toddlers and preschoolers should have at least an hour and up to several hours of unstructured physical activity daily.
Toddlers and preschoolers should not be sedentary for more than an hour at a time, except when sleeping.