Your health: The benefits of strength-based active play for kids | SierraSun.com

Your health: The benefits of strength-based active play for kids

Wendy Buchanan
Special to the Sun

Jumping rope is a great way to warm the muscles and prepare kids for more vigorous activity.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — We live in a culture that is crazy about numbers. The dominant belief of Western culture is that numbers are all that matter. If you can number it, you make it real. Once made real, it's yours to manage and control.

We increasingly depend on numbers to know how we are doing for virtually everything. We ascertain our health with numbers. How many calories or grams should I eat? What's my BMI?

Over the past few years, body mass index (BMI), a ratio of a person's height and weight, has effectively become a number that represents an individual's health.

Many U.S. companies use BMIs to quantify health and determine workers' health care costs. And people with higher BMIs could soon have to pay higher health insurance premiums, if a rule proposed in April by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is adopted.

This month's BFIT theme in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is "Know Your Body." When children grow, they grow out, then they grow up, and their BMIs go up and down with those changes.

Instead of focusing attention on those numbers, however, we should help kids focus on knowing how their bodies feel and function, and how to incorporate behaviors of regular physical activity and healthy nutrition.

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SIXTY MINUTES OF PLAY EVERY DAY

The physical and mental benefits of starting an active lifestyle at a young age are great and making these behaviors a habit is important. It is in a child's nature to play, but modern technology has led to more sedentary lifestyles in both children and adults.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that children participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This includes any type of activity that elevates the heart rate. Physical activity on a regular basis, combined with healthy eating habits will prevent obesity and other diseases.

Did you know:

Fifty percent of kids in USA are overweight. Body mass index (height-weight ratio) exceeds the norm.

Twenty-five percent of kids spend more than 4 hours per day in front of TV.

In the USA, car seats dimensions are being modified to cater for bigger babies.

Kids build strength with resistance training activities. Don't confuse strength training with weightlifting, bodybuilding or powerlifting. This can put too much strain on young muscles, tendons and areas of cartilage that haven't yet turned to bone (growth plates) — especially when proper technique is sacrificed in favor of lifting larger amounts of weight.

For kids, light resistance and controlled movements are best — with a special emphasis on proper technique and safety. Your child can do many strength training exercises with his or her own body weight or inexpensive resistance tubing. Kids learn to improve their body awareness, control, and balance through these types of active play.

GOOD HABITS THAT LAST A LIFETIME

A child's strength training program isn't necessarily a scaled-down version of what an adult would do. Keep these general principles in mind:

Seek instruction: Start with a coach or personal trainer who has experience with youth strength training. The coach or trainer can create a safe, effective strength training program based on your child's age, size, skills and sports interests. Or enroll your child in a strength training class designed for kids.

Warm up and cool down: Encourage your child to begin each strength training session with five to ten minutes of light aerobic activity, such as walking, jogging in place or jumping rope. This warms the muscles and prepares them for more vigorous activity. Gentle stretching after each session is a good idea, too.

Keep it light: Kids can safely lift adult-size weights, as long as the weight is light enough. In most cases, one set of 12 to 15 repetitions is all it takes. The resistance doesn't have to come from weights, either. Resistance tubing and body-weight exercises, such as pushups, are other effective options.

Stress proper technique: Rather than focusing on the amount of weight your child lifts, stress proper form and technique during each exercise. Your child can gradually increase the resistance or number of repetitions as he or she gets older.

Supervise: Adult supervision by someone who knows proper strength training technique is an important part of youth strength training. Don't let your child go it alone.

Keep it fun: Help your child vary the routine to prevent boredom.

Remember the ultimate goal is to teach children to appreciate their body — whatever the numbers may be! The hope is to fuel a fitness habit that lasts a lifetime.

Wendy Buchanan, MS, is an Exercise Physiologist with Tahoe Forest Health System's Wellness Neighborhood, promoting Rethink Healthy. B-FIT is a program provided in partnership with TTUSD to increase our children's active minutes while encouraging a lifetime of healthy habits. If you would like to learn more about B-FIT, contact Maria Martin at mmartin@tfhd.com or 530-587-3769.