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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Physical Activity = Better Health

Pediatricians continue to be disturbed by the trends they’re seeing in the levels of physical activity of children, which appear to be headed in the wrong direction. One survey concluded that less than 25% of children in grades 4 through 12 participate in 20 minutes of vigorous activity or 30 minutes of any physical activity per day. Particularly with weight management as a goal, those numbers aren’t good enough.

Not only will regular physical activity help your child lose weight and maintain that weight loss, but it has many other benefits. For example, if your child exercises regularly, he’ll have

  • Stronger bones and joints
  • Greater muscle strength
  • A decrease in body fat
  • Improved flexibility
  • A healthier cardiovascular system (thus reducing his risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure)
  • A reduced likelihood of developing diabetes
  • More energy
  • A greater ability to handle stress
  • Improvements in self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Greater social acceptance by physically active peers
  • Opportunities to make new friends
  • Better concentration at school

Getting Started

You should have a clear picture of your child’s activity level—and whether he needs to change course. Is he watching too much TV? Is he spending too little time playing outdoors after school or on weekends?

As a parent, you need to help your overweight child get moving. To repeat, he should be doing some physical activity every day. In fact, it should become as routine a part of his life as brushing his teeth and sleeping.

So where should you begin? How much time does your child need to spend being active and how intense does this activity need to be?

The answers to these questions may be different for your child than it is for another boy or girl. If your overweight youngster has been completely sedentary, with no PE classes at school, no outdoor play, no extracurricular physical activities, and hours of TV watching every day, his starting point should be different than that of a fairly active youngster. There are plenty of activities that he can choose from, and he should begin to slowly and gradually pick up the pace.

Let’s say that your child decides to try getting his physical activity by taking walks or hikes with an older sibling through a nearby park. If he is really out of shape or if he has trouble imagining doing any walking at all, encourage him to set a goal of walking for only 1 minute at a time (“Can you walk for just 60 seconds?”). Once he realizes that 1 minute is an attainable target, have him increase his walking sessions progressively, to 2 minutes each time, then 3 minutes, and so on, until he’s walking for 30 minutes or more.

If your youngster is already in better shape, he may want to start with a 15-minute walk and then increase it in 5-minute increments to 20 minutes, 25 minutes, and beyond. The ultimate goal is to have him spend an hour being active each day.

To most of us, a minute or two of walking doesn’t sound like much. In fact, many adolescents and adults think that exercise doesn’t really count unless it’s intense and even hurts (as the cliché goes, “No pain, no gain”). But for a child trying to lose weight, every little bit of activity helps, whether it’s a short walk to the school bus stop or a climb up a flight of stairs at school.

Ultimately, once your child gets into better shape, you can encourage him to increase the duration and intensity of his activity, but the most important thing is that he just get moving and do it regularly.

Tips to Get Body Fit

What can I do to get more fit?

Any type of regular, physical activity can improve your fitness and your health. The most important thing is that you keep moving!

Exercise should be a regular part of your day, like brushing your teeth, eating, and sleeping. It can be in gym class, joining a sports team, or working out on your own. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Stay positive and have fun. A good mental attitude is important. Find an activity that you think is fun. You are more likely to keep with it if you choose something you like. A lot of people find it’s more fun to exercise with someone else, so see if you can find a friend or family member to be active with you.
  • Take it one step at a time. Small changes can add up to better fitness. For example, walk or ride your bike to school or to a friend’s house instead of getting a ride. Get on or off the bus several blocks away and walk the rest of the way. Use the stairs instead of taking the elevator or escalator.
  • Get your heart pumping. Whatever you choose, make sure it includes aerobic activity that makes you breathe harder and increases your heart rate. This is the best type of exercise because it increases your fitness level and makes your heart and lungs work better. It also burns off body fat. Examples of aerobic activities are basketball, running, or swimming.
  • Don’t forget to warm up with some easy exercises or mild stretching before you do any physical activity. This warms your muscles up and may help protect against injury. Stretching makes your muscles and joints more flexible too. It is also important to stretch out after you exercise to cool down your muscles.

Your goal should be to do some type of exercise every day. It is best to do some kind of aerobic activity without stopping for at least 20 to 30 minutes each time. Do the activity as often as possible, but don’t exercise to the point of pain.

A healthy lifestyle

In addition to exercise, making just a few other changes in your life can help keep you healthy, such as

  • Watch less TV or spend less time playing computer or video games. (Use this time to exercise instead!) Or exercise while watching TV (for example, sit on the floor and do sit-ups and stretches; use hand weights; or use a stationary bike, treadmill, or stair climber).
  • Eat 3 healthy meals a day, including at least 4 servings of fruits, 5 servings of vegetables, and 4 servings of dairy products.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after any exercise (water is best but flavored sports drinks can be used if they do not contain a lot of sugar). This will help replace what you lose when you sweat.
  • Stop drinking or drink fewer regular soft drinks.
  • Eat less junk food and fast food. (They’re often full of fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar.)
  • Get 9 to 10 hours of sleep every night.
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or do drugs.

Finding Time to Be Active

See if this scenario sounds familiar—your child has come home from school with 2 hours of homework, including studying for a math test the following day. He also needs to start working on a science fair project. And don’t forget the clarinet lesson that’s on his calendar as well. There seems to be barely enough time to fit in dinner and a bath.

No wonder some kids feel that they just don’t have time for physical activity. Their schedules are filled to overflowing, and when they’re overbooked, it’s easy for physical activity to fall by the wayside.

As a parent, you need to intervene to make sure your child has time for all the things that are important. Whether he’s overweight, physical activity needs to be a priority.

Sit down with your child and structure his time after school so he can fit in everything that’s most essential. For example, in planning the following day, you might say something like, “You have a block of after-school time tomorrow. Maybe the time immediately after school isn’t the best time for homework, because it will take up the daylight hours you could be outside playing.Why don’t you think about choosing to play outdoors for 30 minutes or an hour after you get home? Then we’ll go to your clarinet lesson, and once you’ve eaten dinner and it’s dark outside, you can do your homework. The evening is the time when you used to watch TV anyway, so it’s a good time to get your homework done. And let’s think about rescheduling your clarinet lessons for the weekends.”

As a parent, you can help your child find the opportunities to be active. If you’re creative, the time will almost always be there.

Aerobic Capacity and Training Ability

Aerobic capacity refers to a child’s ability to sustain a certain level of aerobic activity for a certain length of time. An aerobic activity is one that requires oxygen exchange in the blood to a greater degree than other activities, such as running versus strength training. Being able to sustain aerobic activity for longer periods of time depends on the body’s ability to transport oxygen to the tissues and muscles of the body and then use it efficiently once it gets there. In the scientific world, our aerobic capacity can be measured and is called VO2 max.

In a broken nutshell, VO2 max is the maximum level of the body’s ability to effectively take up oxygen, transport it, and use it for sustained exercise energy.

Normally, in adults, this ability to use oxygen can be improved with training and exercise. Improvements can be made with as little as 15 to 20 minutes of exercise 3 times a week. If you exercise more, your aerobic capacity can continue to improve to a certain point before it levels off. The interesting point about children is that even when recommendations for adult exercise are used, only small improvements (approximately 5%–10%) in aerobic capacity are seen until your child reaches puberty. Additional improvements can result simply from their ability to do the movements more easily, more efficiently, and with more motivation.

On the other hand, some youngsters do not show any improvement with the amount of training that often leads to predictable gains in adults. Don’t despair! Once your active youngster goes through puberty, aerobic capacity can blossom. So let me reemphasize—training kids as adults does not necessarily lead to adult results and can often lead to adult injuries. Training kids as kids within their bodies’ boundaries can lead to their best potential results. Another important concept is that your child may genetically have a better ability for aerobic activity, but she still has to have the motor development and motivation to use it for a positive effect on ability and the sports experience.

Acceptable levels of training will accomplish many good results and allow your child to progress nicely when the appropriate levels of development have been reached. I feel you tapping me on my shoulder.

Yes, there are kids whose development is so progressed that they can train as adults even when they are young, and I have seen many of them. Think about teenagers in the Olympics, for example. It was very exciting for me to be one of the Olympic doctors and see some teenagers produce stellar performances. I realized that they had been able to train at significant levels even at younger ages because their bodies had matured earlier and were ready to handle such training, and also because of genetic influences. The timing of puberty obviously has a profound effect on gaining aerobic improvement, among other things. Sports readiness such as this will be significantly different among youngsters of the same age. Some will be ready a lot earlier than others because they develop and reach puberty more quickly. In some cases, their motor development is already capable of responding to the early maturation of aerobic development, as was the case with those young Olympians. In other cases, youngsters go through puberty early, but still need their motor skills to catch up with their new and improved aerobic abilities. Each athlete is different.

Some improve at an early age; some improve much later. Some improve a lot; some barely improve at all. How far and in what direction these improvements occur still depend on the genetic makeup of your child and where along the genetic spectrum she lies—anywhere from pure strength and power sports, to medium strength and aerobic sports, to very aerobic sports and anywhere in between.

The general concepts still apply—until puberty, there is a limited ability to improve aerobic capacity just by training alone. Once puberty is reached, improvements in your child’s ability to use oxygen occur rapidly and progressive gains can be made. Although it appears that there is a certain unseen upper limit to improve aerobic capacity before puberty, this does not reduce or lessen the need to train aerobically.

This is a very important distinction. There is strong evidence that young athletes with a good foundational base of aerobic exercise can have even better improvements in aerobic ability once they reach puberty than those who start aerobic training at a later age. For example, a swimmer or runner who has already had some years of moderate training before her growth spurt has a better aerobic base from which to improve once puberty arrives. Kids who train in aerobic sports also better their performance because of improved technique and efficiency of movement, advancing skill level, maturing coordination, and growing motivation.

Understanding the place of aerobic development in the bigger picture is important in the younger years to take the focus away from competition, time or speed qualifications, and excessive training schedules. This understanding allows your child to focus instead on having fun, improving technique, learning different sports skills, and developing a strong base level of aerobic conditioning.

Hopefully this is clear. Read my lips—there is no need for elaborate, excessive, and exhaustive training programs for children and pre-pubertal athletes. This does not suit their needs or interests.

Parents, coaches, and kids who are not informed about this process may be the victims of discouragement when children do not get significantly faster as their level of training increases. Unfortunately, in those circumstances, increased training continues to be enforced with the thought that more is better and necessary to get the desired effect. When these training loads increase beyond a certain point, young bodies and minds start to break down. On the other hand, when training is kept at the right level and combined with positive reinforcement, support, emphasis on technique, opportunities for participation, new skill trials, and a focus on having fun, young bodies and minds can develop and accomplish their maximum potential ability more successfully.

What’s the “right” level of aerobic training, you ask? Every child will be different because of stage of development and chemical makeup. The important thing is to pay attention to your child’s development. If puberty has not started to show signs of its debut, maintaining moderate aerobic training loads is adequate. Your athlete can still improve by perfecting technique, consistent training, and maintaining good nutrition. When the chemical bonanza of puberty arrives, then ta-da! At that point, increased aerobic training will have much more potential to add to motor skills and enhance ability if there has been enough patience in you, your child, and the coach to avoid the temptation to over-increase training.

This is an extremely important concept to grasp. Consider the following 2 scenarios. Julie A has more genetic talent for aerobic sports and easily achieves some wins at an early age, but has a coach and parents who feel that the only way for her to get faster is to continue to increase her training load. When her improvements start to level off (as she reaches that upper limit of aerobic ability before puberty), she is pushed harder and subjected to heavier and heavier training loads. She gets hurt with an overuse injury and then loses her desire. Once she reaches puberty, she lacks the motivation to train hard enough to take advantage of her increased physiologic ability. She does not have enough wins to consider herself successful (or to be considered successful by her parents), so she suffers from burnout and eventually quits the sport.