Only two or three weeks to school summer vacation and how will our children spend the summer? I’m often asked by parents what is a suitable type of exercise for their frequently sedentary child and how much exercise should they be doing? This opens up a few themes for discussion and comment.
In January of this year the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology released new guidelines for children ages 5 to 17. The recommendations include getting an hour a day of moderate ( think walking, playing outside) to vigorous (think soccer, running, dance) activity every day. Three times a week there should be some muscle and bone strengthening activity and the message is that moderate resistance training is both safe and effective for children. That doesn’t mean heavy, to the max weight lifting but the old thoughts that even moderate weights exercise would damage a child’s growth plates, resulting in stunted growth, just doesn’t hold water. That original thought probably came from the short stature of many gymnasts but that fact is that being short gives a twisting and tumbling advantage so shorter, athletic people simply progress further and faster in gymnastics.
In fact there is good evidence to show that, as in adults, lifting weights or doing other resistance training can help prevent injuries. Bones become denser (and stronger) as do muscles tendons and connective tissues.
Childhood obesity has become such a significant problem that it is now being called an “epidemic” by health experts all around the world. Childhood obesity can cause serious physical and mental health issues including diabetes, bone and joint problems, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and lack of self-esteem. Obese children often become obese adults, putting them at risk for a myriad of health conditions later on in life.
In terms of physiology, no child is too young to start with training but it makes sense to begin specific loading at around age 10. Before that there is hopefully enough going on with playground equipment and general running and skipping around. Proper form must be taught and supervision is essential. We’ll go over that and the changes that training can bring for a child in the next post.
The Health Canada guidelines for activity can be found in our library here: