How young is too young for gym?

February 17, 2010 4:03:13 PM PST
The modern day take on gym class involves toddlers. Toddlers are jumping, climbing and balancing at 74th street magic. The philosophy is healthy body, healthy mind.

"They get the energy out in a safe place that's structured, which is really important," Evan Levey of 74th Street Magic explained. "You have to be careful on the beam, go through the routine, but you have fun while you do it."

Being active is something experts say a growing number of parents are concerned with, given the recent rise in childhood obesity.

Ronalyse Crammerer has been bringing her daughter, Carson, here for about four months.

"Times are different and kids are doing so many things that they didn't do necessarily before. Do I think it's absolutely necessary? No. I certainly don't, but I know she loves coming and I know it's really good for her and we've seen positive changes," Crammerer said.

Dr. Pete Richel, Chief of Pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital, says children do benefit from such classes, learning socialization and listening skills.

He also cautions parents that any physical activity must be age appropriate for their children, especially now with programs in place for little ones as young as 6 months.

"Not much call for that, although it's available in early infancy. Once we have toddlerhood, say 18 months and beyond, parents should provide lots of opportunity for them to have activity," Richel said.

He stressed activity is necessary to master movements like running, walking, swinging and tumbling.

We all know the benefits of exercise - increased bone and muscle density, improved heart and muscle function - but what's interesting is there isn't much data out there in terms of large scale studies focusing on kids 8 and younger.

Experts do know physical activity alone will not prevent obesity, saying the best plan is a multi-pronged approach, one that also includes healthy eating.