It should come as no surprise that children require opportunities to keep their bodies active in order to maintain good health. After all, this is the primary function that playgrounds serve. But how soon is too soon to send your child to the gym if they want to lift weights like their parents, clock cardio during the chilly winters, or simply break a sweat with their friends? Those are all things that they may wish to do in the future.
According to Alfred Atanda, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon and head of the Center for Sports Medicine at Nemours Children’s Health, Delaware Valley, “Cardio can be started at any age.” Bodyweight training, such as planks, pushups, and sit-ups, is also appropriate for children of any age, as long as they are interested in it, he says.
Dr. Atanda stresses that younger children have more brittle bones and a larger risk of injury than older children, thus heavier weight-lifting exercises should be left for teenagers. However, according to Dr.
Mark Mandel, MD, a pediatrician located in Montvale, New Jersey, children as young as 7 or 8 years old might benefit from exercising in a structured setting as long as they are not being forced to work out for the purpose of losing weight or improving their body image.
In terms of keeping your child safe, you should make sure that their workout is being watched by an adult. “The old advice about not letting physically immature adolescents perform [any] strength training has fallen by the wayside,” adds Dr. Mandel.
“There is no longer a need to adhere to this outdated recommendation.”
If your child has been requesting that they get their very first gym membership, continue reading to learn whether or not they are ready for it, how to make sure that their workout sessions are appropriate for their age, and how to assist them in developing a positive relationship with physical activity.
Why Kids Benefit from Going to the Gym?
Children who engage in regular physical activity have a greater chance of reducing their risk of developing chronic health conditions such as cancer and heart disease, as well as high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. This is because regular physical activity strengthens both the bones and the muscles.
In addition, according to Dr. Mandel, a consistent exercise regimen can help enhance a child’s psychosocial welfare, increase their moods, and assist in the management of melancholy and anxiety in children. Increases in blood flow, oxygenation, brain tissue volume, formation of nerve connections, and neural network density are all thought to be responsible for the positive effects that physical activity can have on attention span, memory, and coping mechanisms, according to research.
Bear in mind, however, that the vast majority of the medical literature does not differentiate between physical activity that is undertaken in a gym context and activity that is performed outside of a gym setting. In order for exercise to be beneficial, it is not necessary for it to take place in a traditional fitness center. Kids can get the same health benefits without having to pay for a membership to a gym by participating in team sports, taking classes in things like dance or swimming, or even just running around the yard with the family dog.
Signs Your Kid Is Ready to Start Going to the Gym
Dr. Mandel believes that children in the first or second grade who don’t move about much and who choose not to participate in team sports are mature enough to be ready to attend to the gym under the supervision of an experienced fitness specialist.
If you think that elementary school is too young, you should reconsider. According to Meghan Walls, PsyD, a pediatric psychologist at Nemours Children’s Health, Delaware Valley, “We know from all sorts of behavioral research that when kids start doing something at an earlier age, it becomes a general habit. Kids who start to exercise early are more likely to stick with it than when they begin later in life.” “We want children to get involved, and we want to make sure that they start developing these healthy habits at a young age.”
One important caveat: if your child is worried or self-conscious about their weight, the best thing for parents to do is increase the amount of movement they get together by participating in more activities. According to Dr. Walls, one way to accomplish this is by going on walks as a family.
This activity can promote a more body-positive attitude than getting a child a membership to a fitness center.
One more thing that you should think about is the level of responsibility that your child have. Because children’s brains are still developing, they may be more likely to take risks, which means the gymnasium may be an unsafe environment for them to be in. According to Dr.
Walls, “psychologically, it’s kid-dependent,” and he notes that because children’s brains are still developing, this may be the case. The question that needs to be asked is, “How responsible is your child? You alone are aware of the response.”
Discuss the following in advance with your child of any age who is interested in purchasing a membership to a fitness center: What are they planning to do once they get there? How frequently do they wish to travel? Is it possible for them to collaborate with a fitness trainer who takes a body-positive approach? If their goals are unclear, it could be best to accompany them to the gym and keep an eye on them, or to steer them toward more structured forms of physical activity, like taking classes or playing on a team.
How to Choose the Best Gym for Your Kids?
Begin your search for a gym by looking for one that caters to adolescent clients, which can be determined by whether or not they allow young people to hold memberships and whether or not they employ personal trainers who are both qualified and experienced in working with minors.
Bonus points if your gym offers classes that are specifically designed for children to get them moving. According to Dr. Walls, the act of working for a shared objective with one’s contemporaries is more than merely inspiring.
“It can feel even more tangible than a fitness goal, offers kids a feeling of accomplishment, and helps them feel good,” she says. “It can also feel even more tangible than a fitness goal.”
If you plan on enrolling your child in a group program, you should check to see whether or not the classes are designed for children; if not, private instruction is probably the more effective method to pursue. Make sure your child is aware of the fact that everyone is unique before sending them to a group class. For example, the child’s neighbor may be able to perform a greater number of pushups, and that’s perfectly normal.
How to Talk to Your Kids About the Gym?
Even if you take great care in selecting the ideal fitness center for your child, their initial encounters with physical activity may be positively or negatively impacted by the manner in which you describe it.
According to Dr. Walls, we must be cautious about the language we use while discussing physical activity in the presence of young children. “It makes a difference how we frame things.
We don’t want them to think of going to the gym as a chore simply because they overindulged in supper and feel the need to burn off the extra calories.
A gentle reminder to your children that the images they see in social media and in magazines are frequently air-brushed and unrealistic can also be helpful if you plan to enroll them in a fitness program. According to Dr. Walls, you should not encourage your child who is 12 years old to attempt to appear like someone on Instagram who uses 80 different filters and whose job it is to look attractive.
“The two or three things your child hears in a gym setting won’t have as big of an impact as the fifty things they hear at home,” says Dr. Walls. And while you should, when possible, vet trainers and fitness instructors by sitting in on sessions to see how they speak around your child, “The two or three things your child hears in a gym setting won’t have as big of an impact as the fifty things they hear at home.” “The manner in which you discuss physical activity within your household is the single most critical factor.
They contribute to an inner voice that will ricochet back to the child every day. For example, if mom is talking about dropping the final five pounds and dad is talking about bulking up before summer, they both contribute to this inner voice.