Trade Fits for Fitness Without Feeling Like You Suck as a Parent
You’ve heard it over and over again: children need more exercise. Recently, we have been faced with an epidemic affecting our children that we have never experienced before. According to the Center for Disease Control at least 18% of children, age 6 to 11 years old, are considered obese. This number has raised exponentially in the past 20 years. As the weight of our children increase it’s hard not to notice the decrease in academic performance, and increase in behavioral problems. Could these factors be linked? Experts tend to think so.
Keeping Up with the Jones’
Surveys show that approximately one half of adolescents in the United States spend 30 minutes active a day. In an effort to combat the United States falling behind in academic performance compared to other countries over the past ten years, school systems started putting a lot more emphasis on math and science than they did physical education classes. In fact, some school systems completely nixed some of their sports teams and Physical Education classes to comply with budget restrictions. What schools and parents failed to realize at the time, and still neglect, is that these classes and activities are crucial to a child’s development, behavior, and academic performance.
The “CrossFit” Stigma
Studies are now showing a direct link between physical activity and academic performance. Activities such as the controversial “CrossFit” are found to have dramatic effects on a child, regardless of the myths. Specifically, complex movement sequences like those in CrossFit or similar sports are proven to increase stimulation in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part of the brain associated with learning. We all know that the brain is like a muscle, and the more it is used the stronger it becomes. What is new is that exercise can literally exercise the brain and the body!
A Jack of All Trades
Extended periods of physical activity have positive effects in more than just academics. Sports and other activities are being found to dramatically affect children with behavioral illnesses, like ADHD. A study performed by Josè Medina and other colleagues found that 25 children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder experienced stabilizing of impulsivity and improvements in response time following an hour of average exercise. While exercise is not a “cure all” for these illnesses, it is certainly a step forward in managing the well-being of the children affected.
Exercise’s reach goes far beyond physical changes in your child, but mental as well. Studies performed by Ekeland and Hagan suggests that exercise significantly increases self-esteem. In a world full of insecurities and social standards, our children can use every drop of self-esteem they can get their hands on.
The Mysterious “Growth Plate”
You can find it on any fitness post concerning children, the “growth plate” myth and high intensity activities such as weightlifting or CrossFit; the myth that children should not partake in these activities because they are still growing and developing is exactly that, a myth. Dr. Gregory Myer recently found that weight training is seen to have no negative effects on the development of children who perform it. Children tend to have much better body sense (recognizing limitations) than adults do. Overuse injuries are almost always due to the stress a parent will put on their child to perform and succeed. Additionally, the data shows that adults have a much higher probability towards strains and sprains than their younger counterparts, but children are more prone towards “accidental” injuries. These injuries are easily avoidable by more restrictive safety guidelines and increased supervision.
The Bottom Line
That being said, how much is too much or too little? The American Academy of Pediatric Council on Sports Medicine suggests a maximum of five days a week performing sports or training and an additional two to three months off a year. This allows a child to recover mentally and physically while avoiding “burn out”. Children should never participate in back to back sports teams (soccer, then baseball, then football), as they will not have time to recover from minor injuries and the mental stresses that occur during seasons. Outside of sports teams, experts suggest 60 minutes of exercise a day, 3 to 4 days a week, which is essentially the same as an adult’s. Children, however, are much more likely to recognize their own limitations and stop activities when they need to.
In the end, it’s not weightlifting or CrossFit that is the bad guy, but the parents pushing their children to win that extra trophy. Alternatively, physical activity can have wonderful effects on a child’s all-around well-being so before we scold our children for being unruly, ask yourself has he or she has had the opportunity to expend that energy today. As always, the most important thing is to remember to listen to your child, as they will always let you know how much is too much. Happy parenting!
by Hannah Clayton