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Can kids exercise too much?

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

What should you do if your 10-year-old wants to go to the gym? Or your teen goes on daily runs even though she does daily after school sport too? Getting exercise is good for children - they need at least 60 minutes a day but is there such a thing as too much too soon?

The truth is the majority of children in the UK aren’t getting enough exercise. Research suggests that half of 7 year olds don’t get enough exercise and that out of 6,500 children monitored at the University College London just 51% got the recommended hour of physical activity each day. The good news is it’s never too early to help your children fall in love with sport or exercise. That way moving and being fit is just a natural part of life.

The UK physical activity guidelines recommend that children aged 5 to 18 need to be doing at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. "This should be a mix of moderate intensity aerobic activity such as fast walking and also vigorous aerobic activity such as jogging, cycling or sports," says Graham Oatridge, physical activity contracts manager at YMCA England. "On 3 days a week activities should promote muscle strengthening as well as bone strengthening but this needn't be complicated and can include things like swinging on playground equipment and climbing trees to other more structured activities such as gymnastics, tennis, basketball, football and the like."

Sounds simple doesn’t it? The problem is, we just don't have guidelines about what age a child should start a specific physical activity or how they should start exercising safely or effectively. For example some kids can run 5k races without any problems and some couldn’t run to the end of the road and back without struggling. Like adults, every child is different and exercise can be made safe and fun as long as it's supervised and we teach them to listen to their body. It’s up to us adults to guide them and make exercise fun and effective.

Keeping kids safe

So how do you know if your child is doing too much too soon? It all depends on the individual, say experts. You don’t have to be nervous as long as you keep an eye on things.

Here’s how to guide your child’s physical activity to make sure she stays safe:

Rest is vital

Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans, shows that adolescent athletes who slept 8 or more hours each night were 68% less likely to be injured than athletes who regularly slept less.

The US National Sleep Foundation says most children need 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night, as getting enough rest gives children ample energy for physical activity and makes it easier to function at school.

Graham recommends that while "informal play and physical activity should be encouraged every day, a sensible approach would be to make sure that they are not participating in exercises that work the same muscles day after day. If children are participating in a strength training programme then it should only be performed 2 to 3 days a week and not on consecutive days."

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