Should children under five go to the gym?

Kinderling News & Features

Could a gym with child-sized equipment help with childhood obesity?  Andy Gray, founder of GymFants in Tessside, north East England certainly hopes so. 

He created a gym with pint-sized exercise machines to combat the rising levels of obesity in his community, where 12 percent of children start school seriously overweight.

As the BBC video shows,  the GymFants  excercise machines are designed to be powered by children (ages one to five), with the added bonus of helping them develop coordination skills, while their parents also get a workout.

As Andy told the BBC: “It role models within the social setting. So, if they can see their parents doing something by the time they get to primary school where PE is a mandatory part of education they won’t be shocked by it.”

What about the great outdoors?

Nobody can argue that exposing children to exercise from an early age is a bad thing. After all, here in Australia we have our own issues with childhood obesity; an alarming report by the Obesity Policy Coaltion predicts 50% of Australians will be overweight or obese by 2025.

But is the highly controlled, synthetic gym environment really the most beneficial to our children’s overall health? Wouldn’t a round around the local park, or hour play in the backyard bring just as many physical benefits.  

Nordic countries have long espoused the benefits of ‘forest schools’ or nature play that reflect a deeply held social belief that nature is essential to healthy children.  Even on the coldest days at nature preschool, children spend their time digging for worms, scaling rocks and practicing handwriting skills in the great outdoors.

The result? Active, curious children in an encouraging, self-led learning environment.  As mother Rachel Douglas described her family's experience at a nature pre-school in Seattle, Washington:

“I love that the learning occurred while moving in boots, tromping around in the trees or on the beach. It’s the best early education decision we made. She’s still my nature girl.”

A happy medium could be the answer

It’s easy to see that the Tessside gym provides a terrific place for children and parents to get physical when the weather outside is particularly British (rain, cold, snow, etc.)

But in the interests of optimum health let’s not overlook the myriad of benefits, and relative ease, of kicking a ball around the backyard or a play at your local park.