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11 Ways to Get Kids in Shape for School


WebMD Feature

As the new school year starts and you're busy buying notebooks, backpacks, and clothes for your children, don't forget that what also should be high on your list is preparing your kids for that schoolyard kickball game.

Parents often struggle with which type of sport or exercise, and how much, is right for their kids. However, equally important to consider is getting them in shape with a general conditioning program to ensure safety and better performance.

The conditioning program should include a balance of cardiovascular endurance (aerobic activity), flexibility, and muscular strength, and should be adapted to fit your child's needs. To complete the program, be sure to work on each of the following fitness components:

Cardiovascular Training

It is vital to keep kids in shape for sports by making sure they're doing aerobic activities like walking, running, and swimming. Ideally, children (like adults) should be doing at least 30 minutes a day of a moderately intense physical activity. Those who are already more active may benefit from more vigorous exercise. The aerobic training should be strenuous enough for them to breathe harder without making them gasp for air or stop exercising.

Because children of various ages and stages of development differ in attention spans and physical abilities, you should let them gradually build up to this recommendation. Younger children may need to exercise in short, stop-and-go rounds similar to those that happen naturally in most sports activities.

Strength Training

Stronger muscles help kids improve their performance and protect them from injury. To strengthen muscles, kids need to do exercises that make the muscles contract by means of resistance. These types of exercises include weight-training or "body-weight" exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and tug-of-war.

Under the supervision of a trained adult, children can participate in a strength training program several days a week. Check with your child's doctor about what specific exercises are appropriate for your child.

Flexibility Training

Though most kids are pretty flexible, they should still stretch before and after sports or fitness activities to prevent injury. The best time to stretch is the cool-down period, after the kids have gradually slowed down at the end of their activity. During the cool-down they should stretch every major muscle group -- in particular, those they used most for the exercise. They should hold each stretch for 15 to 20 seconds.

Stretching can also be done during a warm-up period before your kids play. The warm-up should include large movements that loosen and limber the body, as well as light stretches that are held for about eight seconds. Children should focus on the muscles they will use the most during the activity.

Many parents encourage their children to join sports teams that mean a heavy time commitment, and some children participate in several sports. While playing sports has many benefits, an overload can lead to a greater risk of injuries. Making sure your kids are prepared is one way to keep the crutches and casts away.

Exercise keeps children's bodies and minds healthy. But being prepared with physical conditioning makes it safer and more enjoyable. Remember the following tips to keep them from developing sports injuries:

  • Make sure your children have a thorough physical exam before entering a fitness program.

  • Determine their appropriate levels of participation in sports and other physical activities.

  • Make sure that they wear appropriate shoes, clothing, and protective gear.

  • Have them drink plenty of fluids -- mainly water, avoiding drinks high in caffeine -- before, during, and after exercise.

  • Adjust their activities to suit the temperature and humidity where they will train or play (ideally, moderate temperature with low humidity).

  • Make sure they warm up and cool down.

  • Instruct them to breathe properly during exercises, exhaling on exertion rather than holding their breath.

  • Encourage them to gradually increase the intensity, duration, or frequency of exercise.

  • Make sure they take a few days off to rest their muscles if they are sore as a result of training or play. If the soreness does not go away or lessen over several days, seek the advice of a physician or therapist.

  • Re-evaluate the amount or level at which they are participating, and consider reducing the level if they are continually experiencing soreness and fatigue.

  • Have them immediately stop exercising or playing if they feel or appear to be dizzy, light-headed, nauseous, or in pain.

Edited by Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD on September 01, 2005

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