IT IS OFTEN SAID that “you can’t buy health.” Every new parent expects a healthy child and most follow the rules to make sure that the new family member is born healthy and welcomed with love and best of care. But then what?

Babies need exercise too: photoMany New Year’s Resolutions are health related: eat less, eat right, join a gym, join a class, walk every day, take an exercise work break, reduce stress level.

But what about that little new family member? Those same New Year’s resolutions should apply to her too.

Then there is this timeless phrase: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Ben Franklin coined this in 1736 in order to remind the citizens of Philadelphia to remain vigilant about fire awareness and prevention. As is true of many of his quotes and advancements, it still has great relevance today.

In the case of babies, “an ounce of prevention…” needs to begin at once.

Bonnie Prudden first launched her Fitness From the Cradle program of infant exercise in the Sports Illustrated May issue of 1960, which was also the week designated by President Eisenhower as National Youth Fitness Week. The series was designed to introduce a new program that “will help American parents to build a fit generation of children right in their own homes… from babyhood on.”

Few realize that a baby is born with three posture anomalies due to the positioning in the womb:

  1. Flaccid abdominals;
  2. Tight hamstrings;
  3. Tendency to round the back.

These are the exact problems that, if not addressed, lead to back pain in adults.

Why Exercise?
“Since babies are physical long before they are mental, social, or anything else except emotional, let’s start by giving your baby a fine, strong, straight, flexible body in which to house the mind. Then, when the time comes for using that mind, she / he will get the necessary support.”  “…the better the body, the less fatigue and therefore the higher quality of work. The more physical outlets your child will have, the more release there will be for emotional tension.”

Why Music?
“The more good rhythm a child is exposed to, the easier it will be for that child to sing, play an instrument, and dance. Everything will come easier, from walking to studying.” “The child with rhythm does not tire as quickly as the child whose muscles fight each other all day long.”

Where to Start?
Start with a few exercises — for about 30 seconds — with each diaper change. As the baby needs fewer changes, increase the number of exercises and the length of time. Use music. Your baby will come to count on your undivided attention, exercise, and music with each change.

Baby Chest Stretch ExerciseThe following four exercises, done consistently, will begin to counteract the three posture anomalies mentioned above. The chest and lungs will be opened up, the back made strong, the hamstrings will become flexible and the abdominals will be worked for strength.

  • Chest Stretch
    Lay your forefinger in your baby’s palms so she can grip your hand (if the grip reflex is absent, hold her hands with your fore and third fingers).

Open the arms wide at the start of the exercise. From the wide-open position, carry the baby’s arms across the chest to the closed position. Do the chest stretch four or five times to slow music.

  • Overhead Stretch
    Baby Overhead Stretch Exercise Photo
    Babies breathe by expanding the lungs into the abdomen without raising the ribs. Later, when they stand erect, the breathing becomes mixed as the ribs are raised and the diaphragm lowered.

To prepare the lungs for this, and also to give more range to the shoulders, start an overhead stretch. Take the baby’s hands in yours and gently stretch his arms close to his sides. Then, just as gently, stretch his arms overhead. Do four or five such stretches and then to on to another exercise, returning later for another set.

  • Baby Exercise: Hamstring StretchHamstring Stretch
    With your thumb against the baby’s calves and fingers over the knee, carefully straighten the legs. As you bring his feet towards his head, lift his seat from the floor. After you have done this stretch once, let the baby kick free for a few seconds, then repeat. Do three or four.

(Note: it is not necessary to go very far at first. The baby, like many adults who have spent too much time sitting, will not find this exercise easy.)

  • The Tug
    Baby Exercise: The Tug
    Let the baby hold onto your fingers; support the hold so her hands can’t slip away with a jolt.

Pull gently on the arms, which will bring the upper back and shoulders into an arch with the head resting on the floor. Hold for a slow count of three, and then lower gently to the resting position. Do three.

For a complete program of exercise see How to Keep Your Child Fit from Birth to Six, by Bonnie Prudden.

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For more information about Bonnie Prudden®, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®, workshops, books, self-help tools, DVDs, educational videos, and blogs, visit www.bonnieprudden.com. Or call 520-529-3979 if you have questions or need help. Enid Whittaker, Managing Director, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®