The Truth About Childhood Obesity and How to Get Kids Active

What are the Elements of Fitness for a Child?

Similar to adults, children should engage in activity that helps to improve endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. While these activities tend to be more structured in adults, they are easily replaced by child-appropriate activities. For example, the game of tag is a great way for a child to build endurance, stamina and speed. Strengthening activities include playing on the monkey bars, climbing (trees, ropes, fences), and jumping (on, off and over things).

Balance is a fundamental skill for children to learn, as it will possibly help to prevent falls and for those falls that do occur, help with landing properly. Something as simple as lining planks of wood in the yard to act as a balance beam can be a fun and easy activity. Navigating cracks in the sidewalk and prolonged standing on one foot are also simple and effective means of improving overall balance and kinesthetic awareness.

Flexibility is also an important element of a child's fitness program, but the most easily incorporated due to their lifestyle. Everyday activities such as bending down to tie a shoe, crawling, cartwheels, tumbling and sitting cross-legged are considered helpful in improving and maintaining flexibility.

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How Much Endurance Exercise is Too Much for a Child?

One benefit of increased awareness of physical activity for children is the number of activities geared for young people that were traditionally 'adult-only' events. Road races, triathlons, and bike races are now kid-friendly. However, there is some evolving controversy over the amount of distance that is too much for a child. This largely stems from the fact that aerobic power in children does not adapt to endurance exercise as well as adults. Pre-puberty, the most effective kind of endurance training for children will be high-intensity continuous or interval training, (8 to 10 on the intensity scale) with a duration of 20 to 30 minutes.

After puberty, children tend to adapt to endurance exercise programs more like adults. At this time, activities of lower intensity and longer duration can be safely incorporated as long as the rate of progression is conservative (no more than a 10 percent increase per week in volume and intensity).  

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Is Resistance Training Safe?

For the older child, research indicates that appropriately prescribed and supervised resistance training can offer unique benefits. Currently, there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that resistance training might hinder growth and maturation in children.

As a result, youth resistance training is now accepted by medical, fitness, and sport organizations. School-based programs have been designed to incorporate exercise that improves muscular strength. The research that has been published in the past decade regarding children who lift weights has shown that similar to adults, children who lift weights have stronger bones (extending into adulthood), increased lean mass, improved insulin sensitivity, and overall better health. However, also similar to adults, excessive loads, improper technique and poor programming can lead to injury in children.

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