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Should children and adolescents engage in strength-training? The answer is a qualified yes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics 2008 Policy Statement lists the risks and benefits of such exercise to children and adolescents.
First a definition: Strength-training is exercise using weights, machines or one’s own body weight to increase the ability to exert or resist force. This type of exercise builds muscle mass.
Next a truism. Everybody needs exercise especially today when we do not work on the farm or factory or do laundry outdoors in tubs or walk three miles to school in the snow like Grandpa did. Not to mention the fact that we spend most of our day doing what I am doing new: sitting.
Babies get exercise just moving around. Young children get exercise from rough-and-tumble play and, hopefully, walking to school or the playground.
But let’s face it even children can end up spending most of their time sitting. So parents encourage and sometimes pay for their kids to get exercise.
Everybody knows that every adult needs both cardio (exercise that increase the heart rate) and strength-training (defined above). But strength-training for kids has been worrisome. I get nervous at the gym if I see an unsupervised young person on a machine or trying to lift a huge amount of free weight because I worry about the kid’s ligaments and tendons as well as muscles.
RISKS: Injuries, mostly muscle strain but occasionally more serious, do occur mostly with home equipment or in unsupervised settings. Pediatricians urge caution in children with certain heart problems or hypertension, or those who have received certain types of chemotherapy. Overweight kids may look strong but are not in condition so they need extra careful supervision. Properly supervised programs do not affect growth plates.
BENEFITS: increased fitness, bone density, blood lipids, and mental well-being is found in children as well as adults. Obese children can benefit from strength-training as more muscle mass helps increase the metabolic rate. Children and adolescents show evidence of increased strength but, alas, as with the rest of us, this dwindles if the program is stopped.
• PROPER TECHNIQUES AND SAFETY PROCEDURES always.
• Power lifting and body building and maximal lifts (what makes me nervous when I see kids at the gym) are NOT FOR PREADOLESCENTS or ADOLESCENTS.
• NO anabolic steroids EVER.
• Before starting a strength-training program a visit to the pediatrician is a good idea.
Parents have to encourage exercise in their children these days to counter the effects of today’s sedentary life. Team sports, walking and hiking are great and cheaper than a gym. But there is a place for supervised strength-training provided both parent and child recognize that the purpose is safely increasing muscle mass for a healthy body. NOT body building or power lifting. That is reserved for adults with physical and skeletal maturity.
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