When people set personal fitness goals and establish their physical exercise routines, there’s a group of cuddly individuals that is often left out – infants!
Historically, infant active movement has been perceived as a personality characteristic. It’s assumed that infants are plenty active on their own, without needing adult intervention to encourage movement.
However, research is revealing that the choices, behaviors and everyday habits of adults have a big influence on how much infants move.
I’m a physical activity teacher and researcher. For the past five years I’ve conducted several studies exploring infant movement, seeking to identify what supports the development of lifelong physical activity habits.
I’ve learned that many parents and other caregivers want to encourage infants to actively play and move. However, they often don’t know for sure how much physical activity an infant needs, nor do they often recognize how their own behaviors might be limiting an infant’s physical activity. Fortunately, there are several easy – and fun – ways to add more physical activity to an infant’s daily life.
Why infants need movement – and how much
Study of infant movement is a relatively new field, so there is still a lot to learn. However, one of the field’s foundational studies was published in 1972, and it found that increased infant physical activity can improve motor development. More recent research shows that increased infant movement can improve bone health and personal-social development – skills related to improving their independence or interacting with others, such as feeding themselves or waving goodbye.
The World Health Organization suggests that infants should be physically active several times a day, especially through interactive floor-based play. Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends opportunities for interactive play throughout the day, along with at least 30 minutes of “tummy time” with an adult – which I’ll talk more about below.