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Children & Exercise

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Children & Exercise
Summary
  • Training Programmes for young athletes should emphasise general fitness and flexibility and avoid excessive amounts of training.
  • Children should be monitored by a specialist in a chosen sport to avoid overtraining and possible injury.
  • The food children eat has to help them grow and help them to maintain exercise.
Description

Athletic programs for children provide opportunities to improve self-esteem, acquire leadership skills and self-discipline and develop general fitness and motor skills. When training children, the coach, teacher and parent must be continually aware of several important issues. This brief review will look at the areas of strength and endurance training for children.

Children are susceptible to certain sporting injuries because of the physiology that is associated with growth and maturation. Growing cartilage is very prone to damage by repeated stress, resulting in overuse injuries if the child's training programme is too demanding. The muscles and tendons in a child's body can tighten following a period of growth, so joints are not as mobile. Muscle imbalances can also occur, which place tension on the child's joints.1 Training Programmes for young athletes should emphasise general fitness and flexibility and avoid excessive amounts of training.2


STRENGTH (RESISTANCE) TRAINING
A resistance training Programme (weight lifting) can help strengthen muscles to prevent injuries from other sports.3 Provided due care is shown in Programme design, very little risk of injury actually exists with children who do strength training.4 Strength-training sessions for young athletes must be carefully supervised by qualified instructors. It is recommended that children train only two or three times a week and that each session last no longer than 30 minutes. Technique must be perfected using light weights before resistance is attempted. Finally, each 'set' which the child does should involve a low weight, with between 13 and 15 repetitions of a particular exercise being performed.5


ENDURANCE TRAINING
Children can improve their running ability by undertaking endurance training (running). Endurance training Programmes for young athletes should be designed carefully. Children are far more vulnerable to heat stroke , hypothermia (very low body temperature) and dehydration than adult athletes6, due to an underdeveloped sweating mechanism.7 These risks are high if a race or competition lasts longer than 30 minutes.8 Fluids must be freely available before, during and following exercise. Exercise should be scheduled for cooler times of the day and frequent breaks are necessary in warm, humid conditions.


THE EFFECT OF TRAINING ON GROWTH
Regular exercise does not appear to significantly affect height, but it will usually reduce body fat and increase muscle mass and bodyweight.9 However, if a child does resistance training with heavy weights before he/she has reached puberty, long-term skeletal abnormalities can result. Heavy weights should therefore be avoided.


Injuries

Sports injuries in young athletes are often overuse injuries, which are caused by abrupt increases in training intensity, frequency or duration.10 This can cause injury to the growth plates at the ends of the bones, particularly in the ankle, knee, wrist and elbow.11 Young athletes should always wear footwear that is appropriate for their sport. Running shoes should be replaced regularly because they can lose their shock-absorption ability.12 Poor technique is also the cause of injury in many young athletes. Proper, qualified coaches and adequate supervision are necessary to prevent injury from poor technique. See the Children's Sporting Injuries topic on the Healthpoint for further information.


Warm Up/Cool Down

Warming up and stretching before exercise helps the body adjust slowly to what it will be expected to do. By slightly increasing the body's temperature through a general, low intensity activity such as jogging, the risk of injury will decrease and skill performance will improve. In cold weather, the warm up may take 15 or 20 minutes. Cooling down after exercise helps lose excess heat and speeds up the removal of lactic acid from both the muscles and blood. See the Warm Up and Cool Down topic on the Healthpoint for further information.

  • Management

    Lifestyle

    Diet Hints
    • The food children eat has to help them grow and help them to maintain exercise. A balanced diet is absolutely essential for meeting their growth requirements.

    • Children involved in strenuous activities such as cross-country running and competitive swimming need to eat extra food to meet energy requirements. Complex carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy and should form the basis of the young athlete's diet.13 Meals and snacks containing pasta, rice, potatoes and bread supply a good source of carbohydrate.

    • Snacks between meals should be healthy and varied. Fruits and vegetables are highly recommended because they are rich in vitamins and minerals.14

    • Sports drinks may be suitable when the child needs energy just before or even during exercise. These drinks, however, are often high in sugar and can be acidic. This can promote cavities in the teeth. 

    * Replacing fluids is a high priority; children must drink before, during and following exercise (to replace what has been lost in sweat). Dehydration (excessive fluid loss) can decrease sporting performance and can lead to serious medical complications such as kidney failure.

  • Pharmacist's Advice

    Ask your Pharmacist for advice.

    1. Any training for a particular sport should be monitored by a specialist in that sport to avoid overtraining and possible injury.
    2. Make sure that the child has adequate fluid intake. Your Pharmacist will advise you on sports supplement drinks.
    3. If there is an injury and support bandages are needed, ask your Pharmacist for suggestions.
    4. There are cold packs available to help with possible injuries.
    5. Remember to wear sunglasses if any exercise in undertaken out in the sun.
    6. Always use a suitable sunscreen if one is necessary. Ask your Pharmacist for advice.
    7. If the child suffers from muscle strain a suitable liniment or cream might be useful to relieve any pain.
  • Notes

    References

    1. DiFiori, J. Overuse injuries in children and adolescents. The Physician and Sportmedicine. [cited 13 October 2000]. Available at URL: http://www.physsportsmed.com.
    2. DiFiori, J. Overuse injuries in children and adolescents. The Physician and Sportmedicine. [cited 13 October 2000]. Available at URL: http://www.physsportsmed.com.
    3. New Study Looks at Weight Training and Childhood Benefits. American Academy of paediatrics. [cited 13 October 2000]. Available at URL: http://www.aap.org.
    4. New Study Looks at Weight Training and Childhood Benefits. American Academy of Paediatrics. [cited 13 October 2000]. Available at URL: http://www.aap.org.
    5. New Study Looks at Weight Training and Childhood Benefits. American Academy of Paediatrics. [cited 13 October 2000]. Available at URL: http://www.aap.org.
    6. Risks in Distance Running for Children. American Academy of Paediatrics. Paediatrics 1990; 86(5).
    7. Cross M et al. The Sporting Body. Sydney: McGraw Hill; 1991 
    8. Risks in Distance Running for Children. American Academy of Paediatrics. Paediatrics 1990; 86(5).
    9. Cross M et al. The Sporting Body. Sydney: McGraw Hill; 1991 
    10. DiFiori, J. Overuse injuries in children and adolescents. The Physician and Sportmedicine. [cited 13 October 2000]. Available at URL: http://www.physsportsmed.com
    11. Sports injuries can be prevented in children. AAOS On-Line Media Information. Last updated 7 April 2000. [cited 13 October 2000]. Available at URL: http://www.aaos.org.
    12. DiFiori, J. Overuse injuries in children and adolescents. The Physician and Sportmedicine. [cited 13 October 2000]. Available at URL: http://www.physsportsmed.com.
    13. What are the nutritional needs of young athletes? KidsHealth for Parents. [cited 13 October 2000]. Available at URL: http://kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition.
    14. What are the nutritional needs of young athletes? KidsHealth for Parents. [cited 13 October 2000]. Available at URL: http://kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition.
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