Child Flexibility Overview
Statistics Canada carried out a recent study comparing children's fitness changes over 30 years. The conclusion was that children in 2007-2009 were 'heavier, fatter and weaker than in 1981'. In particular, flexibility (measured by 'sit and reach' in cm) had decreased by a staggering 10%-20% in both girls and boys in the 7 - 19 age range. This is starting to become a common theme throughout many parts of the world.
In Louisiana ,United States, the '2012 Louisiana Act 256' Report collected physical fitness data from over 200,000 students in the age range 10 to 19 and for flexibility the conclusion was that nearly 40% of children did not meet the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ(tm)) standards. These are probably typical results rather than being specifically to do with Louisiana.
Flexibility can be defined as the ability of the joints to move freely through a large range of motions. Flexibility in children is important just like it is for parents. Young children are naturally quite flexible but a small amount of stretching generally has many benefits and can be used at quite a young age, depending on the child, maybe at age 6 or 7.
Some sports naturally improve flexibility (e.g. dancing, swimming, gymnastics, mixed martial arts, tennis, figure skating and diving) whereas other sports (e.g rugby or football) do not and should have flexibility routines added as part of the training regime.
Some advantages of good flexibility in children are:
- Decreases injury risk while playing sport
- Improves agility and performance in sport
- Reduces muscle soreness following exercise
- Improves Posture
- Improves co-ordination
- Improves circulation
- Relieves stress
It should be noted that stretching should be done properly with good form and at the right times. This means that during a warm up this should be ballistic (dynamic) stretching such as arm swings, small leg kicks. Think of a boxer going into a ring or a swimmer before they get ready to dive in the pool. After exercise (i.e. the cool down) both ballistic and static stretches can be used. Static stretches are stretches that are used for say 20 seconds without movement that target a specific muscle group.
Yoga is a great activity for all ages and children are no different. This will increase flexibility significantly while building core strength. This can form the basis of a regular flexibility routine and if you do it with your child it will have great health benefits for you too.
Make sure exercises are fun and varied and don't become a chore in order to keep your child interested. The aim is for long term benefits, not short term gains so the key is that the child must enjoy it. A frequency of 2 to 3 times per week is more than enough and the goal at the beginning should be to maintain good posture to reduce the chance of injury.
One thing to watch out for is if your child has seemingly extremely high or low flexibility then it is worthwhile getting this checked out by a physician/doctor.
To summarise the topic of child flexibility:
- In general, children in many countries are becoming less flexible than their counterparts years ago.
- This loss of flexibility can have negative health consequences
- Flexibility can be improved, once the child is old enough, by either involving children in a sport that naturally enhances flexibility or by regular stretching exercises.
- Make sure children are adequately trained and enjoy it.
- Don't push your child too hard, small amounts will add up over time.