There’s no doubt that children need to exercise, even if just by getting active in the back yard, from a young age. While pre-pubescent children gain many benefits from exercise, there’s always a risk that they might injure themselves. Here’s why kids should exercise, a few risks associated with exercise for children, and how to ensure kids stay safe when exercising:
Why Kids Should Exercise
Stanford Children’s Health reminds us that children don’t usually start building muscle until they hit puberty. However, exercise doesn’t have to be full-on from day one. Running around the yard chasing butterflies every so often is great aerobic exercise for young children, and pre-teens or teenagers exercising aerobically.
With mild weight training added it this actually reduces their risk of sports injuries in later life by around half. Weight training will improve the sports performance of a teenager, boosting bone density and strengthening tendons. The increased density of bones will put them at less risk, in later life, of diseases relating to lost bone density.
Risks Associated with Exercise for Children
North Shore Paediatric Therapy reveals that, like many things, too much exercise might actually be harmful to a child’s future well-being. They lay out three risks:
Also known as compulsive exercising or obligatory exercise, this is a mental health disorder that places exercise above all else in the mind of the child. It often comes from external pressures placed on the child to excel. Homework, friends and other pursuits play second fiddle to the sport or activity – with the child feeling guilty or anxious when unable to exercise.
As a 21st century phenomenon, overuse injury is appearing in children as young as six years old. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reveals that overuse injuries commonly affect the knees and feet. “Growth plates are the areas of developing cartilage where bone growth occurs in children. Repetitive stress can lead to injury of the growth plate and disrupt the normal growth of the bone.”
This risk of too much exercise as a child is bad for both the child and their future self. Childhood is supposed to be healthy, building a healthy basis for a future healthy adult. Over-exercising causes strains and injuries which affect athletic performance, and children run the risk of burning out for months, years, or even for life. It’s recommended that children exercise to a maximum of five times a week and have a two- to three-month break from their sport per year.
Finding a Healthy Balance
The key is to strike a balance between exercise and other areas of a child’s life. Stanford Children’s Health suggests starting slowly and increase ultra-gradually. Exercise equipment should be suited to the child’s size, but starting with body weight exercises and mild aerobic exercise would be safer. Children should be taught safety and correct form first, to avoid any future injuries.
Speaking about balance, as nutrition and exercise go hand in hand we need to make sure that our children eat the correct food so that they have the source of energy that they need in order to perform the exercises correctly. However, this doesn’t mean that they need to adopt the nutrition principles of a professional athlete! They still need to be given the freedom to eat what they want to eat at birthday parties or on outings with their friends. This is because if they are denied junk food altogether, they’ll binge on it.
If we keep children’s exercises and nutrition safe, fun and in healthy doses – they’ll grow up to be healthy adults having a healthy relationship with exercise. To discover more about safe child exercise management, see our comprehensive Exercise and Children Course. For more information about our other online fitness courses, please visit our website.