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I’m sure that many of us have heard the notion that children should not engage in “heavy” resistance training. I am also sure that many of us remember the somewhat odd and disturbing documentary of the heavy weight lifting child dubbed “Little Hercules” who – at an unreasonably young age was extremely muscular. Now, I don’t think that any of us want our children to look like “Little Hercules,” by any means but we do want the next generation to be happy, healthy and well adjusted with a positive quality of life. We know that exercise provides these benefits to adults, but what is the truth about children and working out? Could it have harmful consequences?
The scary reality is that, according to the Center for Disease Control, in 2012, 11% of children and 12% of adolescents were obese. That is a frightening statistic that more than 1 of every 5 teenagers is obese – and thus in danger of all the associated health risks. Much of this is a result of an easier accessibility to high calorie foods and a greater level of inactivity. These two factors combined leads to truly deathly consequences and it is affecting younger and younger people in the United States.
In the past, research and anecdotal evidence had indicated that heavy weight lifting at a young age could cause the growth plates (the parts of the bone responsible for lengthening – i.e. getting taller – as one gets older) to close. This was the primary reason that weight lifting was often contraindicated for children. Since then, there has been conflicting evidence – often pointing to the contrary, that it is has no real negative affect on growth – regarding weight lifting at a young age.
While I would not necessarily recommend forcing your youngster to squat hundreds of pounds – if anything, simply because most kids would not find this “fun” – and spending their formative years being forced to associate health and fitness with something negative could be detrimental – I would recommend teaching children to have fun exercising. Whether it be cardiovascular, with their bodyweight, or just engaging in sports, the more active they are at a young age, the more the risk of childhood obesity and its associated health problems are mitigated.
Take your family, kids included, out for a fun day at the park to play some fitness related games, run around, play Frisbee and teach your kids the positive effects of exercise at a young age to build those healthy habits – it will help, if not save, their lives in the long run!