Children and adolescents need exercise just as adults do. The growing child has many unique physiologic features. From the couch potato child to the student athlete, it is essential for young people to have aerobic, strengthening and stretching regimens. Just as an adult, aerobic exercise should consist of between 20-30 minutes continuous “running around” six days a week. Children often get this by the nature of their lives and their school programs. This can be any aerobic sport, track, treadmill, bicycle etc. Aerobic is the easy one, what about strengthening?
I am often asked if children can lift weights or does it injure the growth plates, i.e. stunt growth. The answer is an emphatic “yes” they may and should lift weights, but with precautions. Children should only lift weights that they are capable of lifting ten times in repetition. They should only lift three times per week, at most, and should never “dead lift”. Meaning they should never lift weights at the maximum to see how much they can lift once. Of course, they should be taught how to lift by a knowledgeable instructor. Strengthening muscles as a child and adolescent will only help bone and joint health.
Lastly, I will discuss the issue of stretching. Stretching is by the far the most important aspect of orthopedic health that I can emphasize. While children and adolescents rarely sprain muscles, the effect of the tight muscle on the growth plates and the joints is very significant. Stretching should always take place after one is “warmed up”. So a great family activity is warming up for 5-7 minutes (running in place, brisk walking, jumping jacks, jumping rope) then stretching all muscle groups in lower extremities (hamstrings, quadriceps, ITB, Hip flexors, Calf muscles). Then perform 20 minutes of aerobic exercise followed by stretching again. Therefore for all children and adults it is – WARM UP- STRETCH- PLAY (whatever activity you like) – STRETCH again.
This program makes a terrific New Year’s resolution. Happy 2014!
David S. Feldman, MD is Chief of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery and a professor of orthopedic surgery & pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Center / NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, specializing in the care of children with complex scoliosis, arthrogryposis, hip dysplasia, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, and lower limb deformities.
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