By: Laura Basi, PT, MPT
Physical fitness is important for everyone, including children and adolescents with developmental disabilities. Running is a great weight-bearing aerobic activity. It promotes cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, bone health, lower extremity strength and endurance, symmetry of movement in both upper and lower extremities, and emotional regulation. Wheelchair racing promotes cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, upper extremity strength and endurance, and upper body symmetry. These are all areas that children with developmental delays and disabilities can improve on.
“Gross motor skills like jumping and running, and object control skills like throwing and catching, are the building blocks upon which more complex physical activity can be learned as children grow, so the sooner kids work on being active, the better.” From parents modeling physical activity help kids with developmental disabilities improve motor skills).
Our community program, Hustle for Your Health, helps children reach their fitness goals. Each week includes an outdoor aerobic activity in the form of running and walking or wheelchair propulsion, basic strengthening exercises, and stretching to cool-down. At the end of the program, children will be prepared to complete our Run for the Kids: Superhero Hustle to run or walk a 5k distance and are encouraged to participate in other local races too.
I have heard from countless families that are amazed at their child’s commitment to health during and after the 10-week program. Below, I share some tips to help all children grow their enthusiasm for wellness.
Growing a Child’s Love of Physical Fitness
- Make it fun. Choose activities your kids like. Some kids enjoy walking, running, and biking, but others may get more out of obstacle courses, climbing trees, hopscotch, rollerblading, dancing or a game of kickball in the yard. The goal is to promote a love of movement.
- Variety is the spice of life. To prevent boredom, change things up. Tour the neighborhood using different modes of transport – walking, scootering, biking, skating; you can even make a walk feel different by bringing a ball to dribble while walking or by challenging your child to run to the next tree, skip to the next fire hydrant, leap across the next driveway, etc.
- When building endurance, add in activities for “active rest.” Lengthen a jog or a bike ride by bringing along a frisbee so that you can take a break in the middle of your run/ride to toss a frisbee before heading back home. Your child will have maintained being active for a longer period of time and be able to handle a longer distance with a built-in break.
- Stuck inside? Get your body moving by:
- Making up a dance routine.
- Setting up an indoor obstacle course
- Creating movement themed minute challenges. How many times can you…. in a minute?
- I.E: Run up and down the stairs, do sit-ups, do jumping jacks, push a basket of laundry across a room, run laps throughout your house.
Growing your child’s fitness and love for activities like running, biking or yoga, has a positive impact on their overall body health but also improves attention, mood and more. But one of the biggest factors in growing a child’s fitness was parent modeling according to a recent study published in the Disability and Health Journal. Caregivers and parents that model physical activity helped encourage their children to be active and created a supportive environment for children with developmental delays and disabilities. The study also mentions that starting this early, around preschool age, takes advantage of the fact that younger children are already spending significant time watching and copying parents.
During the State of Illinois’ stay-at-home order, children have more opportunities to spend time with their caregivers and model their activities. There are plenty of fitness activities the family can do together. Our annual Run for the Kids: Superhero Hustle helps many children at Easterseals make a goal to cross the finish line with their first independent steps, with a walker, or after reaching a new distance. Their goals help inspire other family members to join in their training and reach new levels of health. The new Superhero Hustle date is August 1, which gives participants three months to work on a new wellness goal.
Our goal is to help you reach yours! Set your intention for the next 3 months. What will your family accomplish by August 1? Will you run a 5K for the first time? Do 100 jumping jacks? Start each day with mindfulness and yoga? Tell us! To get started:
- Register today at eastersealsdfvr.org/runforthekids.
- Set your wellness and fundraising goals.
- Share your progress with family and friends and encourage their support
- Make plans to “cross the finish line” on August 1
One of my personal goals as a physical therapist for children with developmental delays and disabilities is to not only help improve their physical health but the entire families. Our Run for the Kids and Bike for the Kids events are opportunities to grow our family’s fitness with a very supportive community group.