Regular exercise is important to ensure your child’s growth and development stays on track. It is recommended that children between 5 – 17 years old accumulate at least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise every day. This means that the total amount of exercise a child should have in their waking hours is about 60 minutes. Additional exercise on top of the recommended amount can provide even more benefits.
There are several types of activity that can be included in your child’s daily routine:
The majority of your child’s exercise routine should be comprised of aerobic or cardiovascular exercises that raise the heart rate and respiratory rate. Regular aerobic exercise improves your cardiovascular fitness by increasing your heart’s capacity to send blood (and oxygen) to the muscles. Examples of aerobic exercises include walking, swimming, soccer, skateboarding and dancing.
When your child is old enough to obey and follow instructions, muscle-strengthening exercises and weight training can be incorporated into their exercise regime as long as the exercises are carried out in a safe and supervised manner. Weight training improves muscle power, endurance and strengthens bones. Children will not become stunted, less flexible or develop bulky muscles.
Begin with exercises that use your child’s own body weight. Ensure your child’s balance and posture is maintained and the exercise is completed in good form. Examples of body-weight exercises that work well for children include push-ups, wall sits, and the ‘superman move’. If your child is training with weights, any compromise of form usually means the weights are excessive, and you should consider reducing the weights used. A comfortable weight will allow a child to perform 15 repetitions, while preserving form.
Weight training is not recommended for children below the age of 8.
If your child takes up a sport, such as badminton, that causes them to use one arm or one side of their body more, they might develop muscle imbalance. A well-balanced training programme involving muscles from both sides of the body could prevent this.
Include bilateral exercises in your child’s exercise regime, where both sides of the body are activated at the same time. Training should also cover different planes of motion, with forwards, backwards and sideways movements. Components of a well-designed training programme should also include flexibility, core strength, balance, muscle strength and endurance.
Remember that muscle imbalances in children do not usually cause injuries. Warming up properly with dynamic stretching and some light jogging and movement before each training session will help lower any risk. Some examples of bilateral exercises include push-ups, lateral arm raises and shoulder presses.
It’s essential to make sure that the exercise your child is getting is appropriate to their age and developmental stage, to prevent injury.
Excessive exercise can result in burnout. You might notice your child is exhausted, in pain, unable to recover fully, and uninterested in activities they used to enjoy. Make sure your child is not exercising for too long each day at an unnecessarily high-intensity level. Let your child try different sports and exercise styles to keep them interested, and avoid putting pressure on them to specialise in something too early. Athletics is one area where burnout can easily occur. If your child does athletics, encourage them to try different track events such as long-distance running, sprinting, and cross-training in various field events.
Although studies have shown that children as young as 8 – 11 years old are capable of endurance training, it is recommended they do not go for more than 3 running or high-impact endurance sessions a week. Excessive mileage or long-term overly-intensive training can affect the female hormone cycle. Excessive mileage can also risk muscular and bone injuries in boys and girls.
Injuries in children
Children are more resilient than they are often given credit for. You can’t protect them from every fall and scrape, and you shouldn’t. It’s all part of every active child’s growth process.
Falls and collisions are the most common injuries in children and the best thing to do is immediately apply the RICE principle. Rest, ice the affected area, apply compression (such as a bandage wrap) and elevate the injured area. This technique helps to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
Although it’s important not to worry excessively every time your child has a bump or bruise, in some instances, you will need to consult a doctor. A special concern in growing children is that their bones have growth plates, which is a band of softer cartilage between the end of the bone (the epiphysis) and the middle shaft (the diaphysis). Cartilage is weaker than bone, so it is common to see fractures in this area. Usually these fractures heal relatively quickly, often within 3 – 6 weeks, but immediate treatment is critical, and fracture fragments that are displaced need to be realigned.
If your child is injured and you are concerned it might be a fracture, see a doctor or go to an emergency department immediately.
Although regular exercise is an important part of your child’s routine, make sure they have at least 1 rest day per week. If your child is excelling in a specific sport or activity, make sure their training is appropriate to their age, and not at a level that risks injury. A balanced diet and a healthy family environment will also ensure your child avoids injury and illness where possible.
Article reviewed by Dr Lim Yi-Jia, orthopaedic surgeon at Gleneagles Hospital
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