Fitness means a whole variety of things to experts and the general population alike. There is no widely accepted general definition unfortunately. However, some people argue it is typically broken down into:
- Physical Fitness
- Mental (including emotional) Fitness
Physical Fitness can be of a general nature or specific to an individual activity (a sprinter and a swimmer will have completely different fitness profiles).
This article will focus on General Physical Fitness for Children. But even this term has a huge variety of opinion as to what this actually means. The US Government has given a matrix answer:
- Physiological (e.g. metabolism, bone integrity etc.)
- Health (Body Composition, Cardiovascular Fitness, Muscular Strength & Endurance, Flexibility etc.)
- Skill (Agility, Power, Speed, Reaction time etc.)
- Sports (Team & individual)
In recent surveys in the United States, Fitness levels were tested in numerous States. One example was the 2012 Louisiana Act 256 Report which collected physical fitness data from 365 schools and over 200,000 students aged 10 - 19. It goes without saying this will vary from State to State and country to country.
Children were tested for BMI (Body Mass Index), Aerobic Capacity, Musculoskeletal Fitness and Flexibility using certain specific tests. It goes without saying if different tests were done then the answers would have been different too but the results are a good indication of general fitness levels.
The findings from this report were:
- Healthy Weight 58%
- Overweight 18%
- Obese 22%
- Underweight 2%
- Aerobic Capacity
- Met Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) standards 44%
- Did not meet Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) standards 56%
- Musculoskeletal Fitness
- Met Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) standards 67%
- Did not meet Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) standards 33%
- Met Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) standards 61%
- Did not meet Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) standards 39%
The findings from this report add some hard data to what we already know : namely that children, in general, need to improve on their general levels of fitness.
What can I do about it?
Improving children's general physical fitness levels needs a bigger focus from Guardians on :
- Aerobic Exercise & Strength Training
- Flexibility Exercises
- Balanced, healthy nutrition
- Adequate hydration
- Sufficient rest and sleep
Benefits of a Child being more Physically Fit
There are many benefits for Children if they are physically fit, which are very similar as for adults, including:
- More likely to maintain a healthy weight even through adulthood
- More likely to have a better sense of well-being and mood
- Stronger heart and lungs
- Reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Reduced risks of diabetes
- Better self esteem & more self confidence
- Strength training reduces injury risks, makes stronger bones and reduces body fat
- Improved sleep
- Higher energy levels
- Better academic performance
How can I encourage my child to get fitter?
- Be active yourself and be a great role model
- Make sure they eat nutritious food, are well hydrated all the time and get lots of sleep
- Kids like attention from Guardians so go on bike rides, walks or go swimming together and generally have active family fun. In fact fun is the key! Have fun and they are likely to stick at it.
- Find an activity that your child likes. It does not have to be the standard ones such as football or athletics. Try gymnastics, dancing, tennis, climbing, hill walking, table tennis, cricket or golf. Basically anything to get them out and about!
- Set limits of TV/Computer/Tablet/SmartPhone time and stick to it.
- Let your child choose the activity sometimes. Getting buy-in is extremely important so compromise. Something is better than nothing. If the child chooses something of little benefit, maybe take it in turns.
- Get into a routine because kids love routine. Once it becomes a way of life then it becomes so much easier.
- Take younger kids to the park and take a ball
- Ask your child to teach you how do an exercise. Kids love teaching their parents!
- Give lots of praise after exercise. Never criticise. Children who get praised at things want to do them again. Children who get criticised don't. If the aim is to encourage them to keep going, praise is an absolute necessity. Criticism will kill it stone dead.
Some great articles on Child Fitness including - 'Aerobic Capacity and Training Ability', 'Aerobic Training', 'Body Composition and Flexibility', 'Core Exercises - Guidelines and Examples', 'Encouraging Your Child to be Physically Active', 'Energy Out - Daily Physical Activity Recommendations', 'Finding Time to Be Active', 'Healthy Children Radio - The Importance of Recess (Audio)', 'How to Get Fit', 'Making Fitness a Way of Life', 'Overcoming Obstacles to Physical Activity', 'Overcoming Tissue Damage and Stress Chemicals Associated with Exercise', 'Physical Activity = Better Health', 'Physical Activity and Your Child's Safety', 'Physical Activity - Make the Right Choice for Your Child', 'The FITT Plan for Physical Activity', 'Turning Family Time into Active Time', 'Weight Training and Lifting', 'Weight Training - Age and Development', 'Weight Training - Availability of Equipment and Adequate Supervision' and 'Weight Training - Risk of Injury'.