There is general agreement among pediatric health specialists that the habitual physical activity behavior of children and adolescents is a major health issue (3). High levels of physical activity may play important roles in determining cardiorespiratory, skeletal, and psychological health of children (4, 5). The positive influence of habitual physical activity on various conditions such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity, stroke, hypercholesterolemia, colon cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and low functional capacity in adults is well documented (1).
A number of issues have prompted specific interest in physical activity and fitness in the pediatric population, including: 1) recognition of the role of regular exercise in the present and future health of youth, especially childhood obesity; 2) the growing number of children participating in elite-level sports competition; and 3) a growing awareness of the role of exercise testing and intervention in children and adolescents with chronic diseases. The growing body of research information surrounding these issues has identified a number of biological responses to exercise that are unique to physically immature individuals. These have provided evidence that, physiologically, children are not simply small adults. It is important that these features be considered when performing clinical exercise testing or physical fitness testing in children as well as in designing exercise programs for young subjects.
Children And Exercise
Regular exercise in children and adolescents can pay immediate health benefits (e.g reduction of body fat, diminished mental stress), and, if persistent, can reduce the risk of future adult disorders such as atherosclerotic disease, osteoporosis, and systemic hypertension. For this reason, promotion of exercise in youth should be designed to introduce exercise habits that will serve as the basis for a long-term life style of regular physical activity. Although children are the most physically active age group, a significant minority is considered to have inadequate levels of regular exercise. Survey data suggest that only 50% of youth aged 12 to 21 are vigorously active on a regular basis. Physical activity typically declines through puberty, especially for girls, and the development of appropriate intervention strategies is important.
Recently, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education released a position statement for children ages 5 to 12 that includes the following guidelines (2):
- Children should accumulate at least 60 minutes, and up to several hours, of age-appropriate physical activity on all or most days of the week. This daily accumulation should include moderate and vigorous physical activity with the majority of the time being spent in activity that is intermittent in nature
- Children should participate in several bouts of physical activity lasting 15 minutes or more each day
- Children should participate in a variety of age-appropriate physical activities designed to achieve optimal health, wellness, fitness, and performance benefits
- Extended periods (periods of 2 hours or more) of in activity are discouraged for children, especially during the daytime hours
Counseling efforts to improve level of activity have been applied to young persons who are identified as having a sedentary lifestyle. In addition, there are specific disease entities in which exercise intervention is considered an important component in management, including patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and essential hypertension. As in adults, the emphasis has shifted from improving physical fitness in youth to encouraging an increase in levels of habitual physical activity. Such activities should be well rounded, including those that tax the cardiovascular system (swimming, cycling), provide weight-bearing stress to bones (jumping, running), and improve muscle strength (calisthenics, lifting). Promotional efforts to maintain or improve habits of physical activity in children are most effective if multifactorial, including school physical education classes, community recreation programs, family-based activities, and counseling by health professionals (eg. an Exercise Physiologist).
Your child may have a chronic disease, learn about how chronic diseases are eligible to receive a Medicare Rebate when seeing an Accredited Exercise Physiologist:
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Learn how an Accredited Exercise Physiologist can help your child to begin and maintain exercise in their life, so they can enjoy the health benefits of Exercise for Children:
What Does an Exercise Physiologist Do?