Kids’ sports activities are back. As a parent, of course you’re relieved that they're spending less time on video games and more time on physical movement. In fact, you may be tempted to shuttle them to every available physical activity to make up for all those lockdown video game hours. (More is better, right?) But here’s the thing: While widespread panic about childhood obesity and encouragement to promote increased physical activity are valid, there can be an opposite risk, of pushing children too far or too fast. The caveats that apply to adults returning to exercise also apply to children, with extra cautions to account for their developing musculoskeletal system. So where’s the tipping point between ‘healthy’ exercise that strengthens growing muscles and joints, and the type that may compromise development (or lead to burnout and dropout)? Here’s a cheat sheet for children aged 5-17.
THE ADVICE: Encourage at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity daily. Encourage children to undertake both aerobic activities such as cycling, swimming, circuit training and dance or aerobics AND exercise that strengthens muscles and bones, such as crunches, push-ups and squats -- which may be factored in to fun activities such as obstacle challenges.
THE WARNING SIGNS: Despite the guidelines, each child’s threshold is different. Once they’re into a routine, gauge their physical and mental wellbeing and adjust activity as needed to avoid injury or burnout (i.e. ‘I quit!’). Mixing up types of exercise across the week will help to build comprehensive and balanced fitness and minimise injury risk. If a child suffers pain or discomfort, exhaustion or can’t recover fully after exercise, participation may need to be reduced. For organised sport, including training and competition, factor in at least one rest day.
If you're concerned about your child's physical activity level or want specific advice for combining types of physical activity for optimal development, consider consulting a children's physiotherapist for personalised and age-appropriate recommendations.