Kids MD - Toddler Exercise

Robert Seith | CWK Network

"It just grows the appreciation for physical fitness in general as they grow older."
- Paula Prowell, director of My Gym, a children's fitness center -

They climb stairs, they hang on rings, they do stretching exercises with their moms, dads or nannies. They are toddlers attending gym class.

"Good boy," exclaims Jan Jay, as she helps her 21-month-old son, Jarrod, extend his right leg behind him.

"It's tremendous exercise," says Jay. "I mean, he's a very energetic child and this gives him an opportunity to come and expend all kinds of energy. . . to strengthen his muscles."

Toddler gyms like this are cropping up all across the country.

"I think the classes do help with movements in certain directions, and therefore gets the range of motion of all the different joints," says Pediatrician Stephen King, M.D.

However, he says, the physical benefits are minor. Toddlers simply can't sustain any exercise long enough to improve strength, flexibility, or cardiovascular health.

"Those things are something that will develop much later," says Dr. King.

He says a child would get the same amount of exercise just running and playing in the back yard as he gets in a class like this. The real value, he says, is that toddler gyms often involve the parent, and so the child beings to internalize "the parent's feelings about weight, keeping fit, exercise. So the fact that it's important to the parent becomes important to even the infant," says Dr. King.

Jay says even if that's all her son gets from this class, that's more than enough.

"I want him to enjoy exercise. I want him to have fun, but I want him to know that it's important and to build it into his lifestyle," says Jay. "I think that this will start him in his lifetime so he'll want it, he'll need it."

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