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How active are your children?

April 6th 2016

When I reflect on my childhood some of my best memories are of playing sport. It wasn’t only the games or the trips away, but also the friendships made, the laughs and even being involved in something as a family. It’s no surprise that I’m all for kids playing sport – especially team sport.

Not only is it an excellent source of fitness and fun, but it also stimulates the body’s motor development, improves social skills, promotes team work and advances problem solving skills. As if this wasn’t enough, but it also cuts down on the time kids spend in front of a screen! Results from the 2011-12 Australian Health Survey show that 25% of children aged 2–17 are overweight or obese, with 18% being overweight and 7% obese. The proportion of boys who are overweight or obese is not significantly different from girls (25% compared with 26%).

No matter what you do as a parent, a child playing sport will at some stage get bumps & bruises, jar their finger or roll their ankle. Unfortunately these are unavoidable, but usually minor. On the other hand, over-training and injuries from repetitive strain are completely avoidable with the proper management of training frequency and intensity. It is also important for children to do regular stretching especially at times of growth spurts, and a program specifically on increasing stability and flexibility may also help.

As with everything in life, there are some people who do too little and some who do too much. It is the kids at both ends of the spectrum that we see all too often in the clinic. A lot of people don’t realise that kids are still developing until they are in their early twenties (particularly boys). Until then their skeletal systems are not mature and their muscular control and stability is reduced. This can put undue strain on the growth plates of children especially during growth spurts.

As a very general rule, I tell parents that there needs to be at least one rest day per week (preferably two). Also, if you are going to have your kids playing multiple sports try and do ones that place different demands on the body. Rapidly increasing your training loads is a recipe for disaster and most importantly brushing off minor injuries without proper assessment, treatment and education can lead to complications down the track.

Despite all this doom and gloom I am still an avid supporter of sports for kids, but doing it to safely can be difficult for parents without any background knowledge. Physiotherapists can give advice on the best programs to manage training in your sport of choice and also work on prevention of injuries and pain. Hopefully these tips have helped. I think the main message to finish with is that some is always better than none when it comes to activity. Kids who do not participate in sport or activity struggle with their weight, cardiovascular system, strength, self esteem and concentration. By getting them active sooner rather than later you are giving them the best start in life that you can.

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