Q: We all know that children need plenty of exercise to stay healthy. But what does "fitness" really involve for them?

A: Fitness need not be anything formal or structured at this age. Actually, it's best defined in two ways: 1) decreasing the amount of time children spend in sedentary pursuits each day, and 2) increasing active play.

At least 2 hours a day should be devoted to very active play. That means running, jumping, climbing, and the like. It doesn't have to be two solid hours, of course, and can be spread throughout the day. At school, I'd recommend (depending on how long the school day is) an hour or so in the morning and another hour later on devoted solely to active play. All young children need, in terms of "equipment," is plenty of space so they can run. Having some sports equipment available-balls, parachutes, and so on-gives children the opportunity to play spontaneously, as does playground equipment. It really doesn't take much. If a school only has a small outdoor space, teachers can still inspire active play. Music is a great way to encourage movement indoors, or you can bring a boom box outside to get children motivated and moving. (It's been shown that children are better listeners and exhibit more positive behaviors after they've had time for physical activity.)

Alan Greene, MD, is a pediatrician and the author of From First Kicks to First Steps (McGraw-Hill, 2004). For more information, go to www.drgreene.com.


Metabolism is the way your body gets energy from food. It breaks down the food you eat and uses it as fuel. Five-year-old Owen says, "So, it's like when I eat juice Popsicles. They give me energy to run around and play."

Move to the Music!

Play some upbeat music and encourage children to dance. Say "Freeze!" and abruptly pause the music. Explain to children that they must strike a pose and not move until the music starts again. Then suggest children hop until they hear the music stop. Later, invite them to crawl like cats, walk on their tiptoes, swim through the air, and do any other fun movements. For a twist, call on individual children and invite them to select a movement for everyone else to follow.

Snack of the Month: MAKE A CLASS SALAD

Send a note home asking parents to bring in their child's favorite salad ingredient. Invite children to wash, and help them to safely cut (if necessary), their ingredient. Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix together for a healthy snack.


The kind of bread you serve those tuna sandwiches on at snack time is important. Look for whole wheat bread - which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends - rather than white bread. (Be aware of the difference between "wheat" and "whole wheat": Whole wheat is 100% whole wheat, while wheat is usually a blend of whole and refined grain.) Also, try to choose a brand fortified with calcium (at least 10-15% of the recommended daily value per slice), for an added nutritional boost.

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