Premature infants or those with prenatal complications who used a treadmill learned to walk earlier and better, according to a study by the University of Michigan.
Though baby treadmills are not widely available, parents of at-risk children can work with their child at home using an adult treadmill if it has a slow speed, says Rosa Angulo-Barroso, lead researcher on the study.
The study followed 15 infants at risk for neuromotor delays for two years and tested their changes in physical activity and treadmill-stepping in their homes.
Babies entered the study at about 6 months corrected age (many of the babies were premature, so ages were adjusted). An adult held them under the armpits and placed their feet on the treadmill, which was operating at a low speed.
“What is appealing to us is that in this data, we are seeing that although they are delayed, they’re showing improving patterns of development, not only for how many steps on top of the treadmill, but also on having better foot placement on the treadmill,” says Angulo-Barroso.
Many of the children in the study had incorrect foot placements, including toe walking, over-rotation and scissoring their legs, which improved from using the treadmill, Angulo-Barroso says.
The study also tracked the infants’ activity levels and found that how well they did on the treadmill training and their overall level of movement were predictors of how early the children would walk. The study shows the babies benefitted by being in situations that forced them to move around.
She recommends that infants born prematurely, or where there are complications in delivery, should receive help as soon as possible. “Be proactive with some sort of intervention for your child,” she says. “It can minimize whatever delays these (complications) are going to be producing on their system.”