Friday, August 29, 2008

Running Children

Beginning habits at an early age that will lead to a lifelong interest in physical activity is very important. As a relatively new parent, nearly every day I am reminded of how influential a child's brain is and the responsibility that comes with that.

There are certainly psychological risks when parents pressure their children to be excessively competitive. Accordingly, the meaning associated with exercise is pivotal with children.

As I finished my undergraduate degree in Calgary, legislation was being passed to ensure that Alberta children would have increased amounts of physical education (PE) classes. Although the idea was excellent, we were given reports of some unforeseen side effects as teachers without PE training attempted to meet the new exercise quota. Military style exercises may possibly have some short term physical gains but, will not establish a positive experience with physical activity and as such will be quite detrimental in the long term. Similarly, exercise should never, ever, be used as a punishment.

Here is some information about children and competition:

1. Children are not miniature adults. It is recommended that children do not specialize in one sport too early but develop a variety of skills.

2. Aerobic exercise is very important in children although there is debate about how much a child's aerobic ability can be increased with training. However, Nieman (2003) stated, "Aerobic (heart and lung) fitness is lower than recommended for many young people. About half of girls ages 6-17 and 60% of boys ages 6-12 cannot run a mile in less than 10 minutes." As such, there is some room for improvement!

3. Children are quite capable of Calisthenics (body weight exercises) and higher repetition, lower intensity weight lifting workouts (Heyward, 2006; Nieman, 2003).

4. Because of the surface area to body mass ratio, children are not physiologically well equipped to dissipate body heat. Therefore, it is not recommended for children to compete in adult marathons until they are 18 years old.

For detailed reading on the subject here are some links:

I. American College of Sports Medicine Youth Activity Guidelines

II. Endurance training and aerobic fitness in young people

III. IMMDA Advisory Statement on Children and Marathoning

VI. Nutritional considerations for the child athlete

David C. Nieman, 2003. Exercise Testing and Prescription: A health related Approach, 5th ed. p.16.
Vivian H. Heyward, 2006. Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription, 5th ed.

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