Why should we worry about youth fitness? Aren't kids by definition young, vibrant, alert and alive? Not necessarily!
Consider these facts: Forty percent of children ages five to eight are already obese or have elevated high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels or inactive lifestyles. Those are all the signs of future heart disease. As many as half of our children are not getting enough exercise to develop a healthy heart and lungs. One-third of all school-age boys and half of all school-age girls can not run a mile in less than 10 minutes. Only one state, Illinois, has a physical education requirement. Pretty staggering statistics, huh?
This comes from the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, which surveyed physical education requirements in all 50 states. The alliance, by the way, recommends 30 minutes of P.E. per day for elementary school students and 45 to 55 minutes a day for secondary school students.
It appears that if children are to get that kind of physical education, it will have to come from the home and not school; but even at home attention to physical activity is spotty. Many of the toys and games that children currently receive do not require their attention beyond that of a spectator. Teddy bears talk to them. Radio-controlled robots perform for them. Even high-tech interactive video requires little interactivity beyond pushing buttons!
At Utah State University orthopedic surgeon Marlowe Goble is studying the effects of concentrated, noncompetitive fitness training on prepubescent children-kids about 15 years of age and under. Goble is finding that kids not only do well in controlled environments that combine weight training and running, but they actually thrive on the regimen. The self-discipline they gain spills over into other areas of their life in the form of greater self-image and self-esteem. The children even become peer-group leaders as the other kids look up to their accomplishments. Goble's best example has come from his own family: His nine-year-old daughter was overweight and had a poor self-image because of the teasing she received at school. She finally took up a before-breakfast running regimen, lost considerable weight, ultimately ran in the Junior Olympics and won medals in the 1,500-meter competition. Now she's one of the most popular kids in school and has had articles written about her in the local newspaper!
What does this mean? It means that kids are probably never too young to begin some form of physical conditioning program.
Several sports medicine associations have issued a position paper stating that "strength training [for prepubescent children] is safe with proper program design, instruction and supervision. The benefits outweigh the risks." Their considerations for a proper program include pre-participation physical exam; enough emotional maturity to accept coaching, adequate supervision, a overall comprehensive program designed to increase motor skills an levels of fitness, and no competition. This report suggests training two to three times a week for 20-to-30-minute periods.
Should kids be force into a training program? No! But it's logical that they will gravitate toward a program if they are encouraged and they see a role model taking part in the physical activity. And that doesn't mean joining health club that requires great commitment of family money and time. Running or riding a bike are both inexpensive forms of noncompetitive exercise that offer high levels of fun as individual or family sports.
Even a commitment to stretching program would relieve the stress anxiety, and nervous energy that often lead to th; famous question: "What do we have to eat before dinner?"
Why youth fitness? With 40 percent of America's children facing the risk of heart disease, the question should be: "Why isn't youth fitness a bigger priority?