The Right Amount Of Exercise
In normally active children, exercise-related injuries and problems are few and far between. Physical education teachers, coaches, and doctors can typically provide the supervision necessary to prevent harm from occurring. Teachers and coaches are educated specifically about exercise in children. Professionals who work closely with children can help each child determine his or her own limits.
The primary risk associated with exercise is overuse injuries such as muscle strains, tendonitis, stress fractures, and other soft tissue damage. These are typically caused by doing too much too soon and are usually repaired by resting the injured area.
Two areas of concern specific to children are injuries to the growth plate and increased risk of heat exhaustion/heat stroke. Children's bones have weak areas near each end where growth takes place. These are called growth plates and are susceptible to breakage. Also, for children competing at an elite level in high-impact sports such as gymnastics there is an increased risk of a premature closing of this growth plate, which could result in stunted growth. By increasing exercise intensities gradually over time, these types of injuries can be avoided.
Children's body temperature regulation has not yet matured so there is increased risk of temperature misregulation during exercise. Children are more susceptible than adults to heat exhaustion and heat stroke in extreme heat conditions and to hypothermia in chilly water. These extreme temperature conditions should be avoided whenever possible or children should be closely monitored while exercising at these times.
Parents of preteen girls are often concerned about exercise's impact on the menstrual cycle. Endurance sports such as running and swimming promote lean body mass, yet a certain amount of body fat is necessary for proper menstrual function. Late onset of menstruation or the cessation of menstruation can be caused by extreme lean body composition. This does not, however, appear to lead to long-term reproductive health problems.
All children, even those with chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes and those with motor dysfunction, must include exercise as part of a total fitness program. All children can engage in exercise that will increase their overall heath. In special cases, professionals such as doctors, teachers, and coaches can work together to create an exercise program that will benefit the health and self-esteem of a child.
Regular exercise is important to the development of healthy children. With proper use of exercise principles and good professional supervision, exercise can help all children develop into healthy adults.
See also: MOTOR DEVELOPMENT
Armstrong, Neil, and Joanne Welsman. Young People and Physical Activity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
"Exercise (Physical Activity) and Children." In the American Heart Association [web site]. Dallas, Texas, 2000. Available from http://www.americanheart.org/Heart_and_Stroke_A_Z_Guide/exercisek.html; INTERNET.
Pařízková, Jana. Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Health in Early Life. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1996.
Rowland, Thomas W. Exercise and Children's Health. Champaign, IL:Human Kinetics Books, 1990.
Shawn R. A. Svoboda-Barber