While many adults can spend their leisure time taking part in 60 minutes of a grueling workout, children cannot. Play must be the foundation. Children who get moving, balancing, climbing and jumping early will develop strength, mobility, flexibility and agility. Each of these assets will teach a child how to handle their own body as it moves through space and time. As part of their nature, children will gravitate towards dangerous things. Having these skills may reduce the chance of serious injury in that first scuffle.
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).
The most effective kind of endurance training for children is high-intensity continuous or interval training.
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.
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.
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