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Young children are sometimes the best teachers of physical activity. They remind us of one of the most important reasons we should be exercising or participating in a sport: It's fun.
Sometimes, we get so caught up in adult goals of exercise that we lose sight of the joys of activity. We focus too much on pounds we want to lose. We don't rest when we really should because we're worried about losing performance gains. We allow ourselves to get stuck in an exercise rut because it's comfortable and change means uncertainty.
As I've watched my 11- month-old son discover the wonders of movement and become mobile, I've learned a lot about exercise from him and other toddlers.
-Children don't obsess over how they look. When they lift objects or run, they do it because it comes naturally to them. They are experts in the art of the best fitness activity: playing. In the process of playing, they burn calories and improve their health. We can do a better job at remembering how essential it is to play.
-Toddlers choose what they like to do. They naturally avoid things that they dislike. Readers, acquaintances and colleagues often have asked me what is the best exercise for them. My answer: the exercise or activity that you enjoy the most. If we like an activity, we are more likely to do it more often and to stick to it. And remember that what's effective for a friend may not be the best for you.
-Toddlers change gears when they become bored with an activity. Watch a typical 3-year- old kid with a toy. She'll play with it for a few minutes, then will move on to another toy or find a different way to play with the toy. When we find ourselves feeling weary with the usual exercise routine, it might be time for a change. We can take a new class, find a different instructor, change a route or try a fresh activity.
-Kids play games by themselves. When was the last time we played a quiet mental game with ourselves when we're exercising? We can set little goals along our route while we're walking, running, cycling or inline-skating. Try this: Every time you see a red or green car, sprint for 10 seconds.
-Kids play pretend and use their imagination. Sometimes, we take ourselves too seriously and forget how enjoyable it is to pretend to be someone else or somewhere else. Pretending is fun to try in an exercise class such as indoor group cycling, kickboxing and cardio-dance. Picture sprinting and climbing a steep hill with Lance Armstrong. Or delivering a roundhouse as Jackie Chan's sidekick.
-Kids keep going until they're tired and then stop. They listen to their bodies. When they've completely run out of gas, they're done. We, too, should push as much as we can, but tune in to our bodies for cues on when it's time to rest.
(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c) 2003, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.