There has been much discussion on the topic of children’s health, particularly exercise. Unfortunately, the U.S. has a childhood obesity epidemic. Here are some facts from the CDC:
• Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
• The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010.
• The percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.
• In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
• Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.
• Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various factors.
One of the easiest ways to fix the “caloric imbalance” described above is exercise. There are many ways to get your child involved in exercise activities that not only will provide them with a level of fitness, but will also establish an active lifestyle that can translate to their adult life. The most important point of youth fitness, especially in very young children, is to get away from the T.V. and get moving!
This is an easy way to establish and maintain a child’s fitness. There are organized recreational programs for just about every sport. Not only do organized sports improve a child’s coordination, flexibility, strength, and in some cases endurance, but they also teach kids fundamental life skills such as following directions, teamwork, and leadership. Pop Warner football, Little League baseball, and soccer are some of the most popular sports children choose to play. Finding out what sport your child enjoys the most will help ensure effort and stick-to-itiveness throughout each season.
Most gyms have a youth fitness program that you can bring your child to. YMCA’s, Aquatic Centers, and other fitness facilities have activities specifically designed for kids such as swim or karate classes. Some places even have personal trainers designated for youth.
Throwing a baseball or a football in the yard with your kid or even playing tag is a great way to not only get your child moving, but will provide an avenue to bond and strengthen your relationship as well.
Controversial Topic: Resistance Training for Children:
Is it O.K. for kids to lift weights? How young is too young? Will it stunt my child’s growth? These are common questions parents have about resistance training for their young ones. There are a lot of strong opinions on both sides of this topic. Some say that children should never touch a weight. Some say that it is a necessity that weight training should be done at an early age. So how do you know what to do when it comes to weight training and your child?
Several research studies have been done on the safety of resistance training for children. What has been found is that resistance training is not only relatively safe, as compared to the sports and activities children normally participate in, but can be beneficial not only to sport performance but to injury prevention as well.
One of the most common concerns with children and resistance training is stunting a child’s growth. This concern is centered around a fear of breaking the child’s epiphyseal (growth) plate through too much stress. While it is true that this part of the bone has not yet ossified (hardened) in children, this fear of fracture through weight training is unfounded. The reports of children injuring growth plates while weight training were isolated incidences, documented in case studies, in which heavy overhead lifts were performed without supervision. Under proper supervision, utilizing well established training protocols, there have been no reports of epiphyseal fracture in youth training studies. Some of these studies even included 1 RM testing. As long as a qualified professional is supervising a child’s resistance training program, the risk of stunting a child’s growth is minimal and, arguably, negligible.
Due to the fact that hormonally pre-pubescent children are not capable of significantly increasing muscle mass (strength gains through resistance training are attributed to neural adaptation), children should focus on proper lifting technique, coordination, and flexibility when in the weight room. The maturity to do these things should also be evaluated before a child starts a resistance training program. Weight should be increased very gradually as the child can tolerate the stress. Even complex lifts such as the clean and jerk and the snatch can be performed as long as the emphasis is placed on proper technique and not the amount of weight lifted.
Number 1 Rule: HAVE FUN!
The most important aspect of youth fitness (after safety) should be fun. Kids that participate in sports and other fitness activities are going to be more likely to lead a healthy, active adult lifestyle. -JJ