All of my families know that I am a strong advocate of daily exercise. The benefits- physical, mental, neurological, social, psychological- are so many that entire books are written on the subject. The key thing is to help children develop a habit of daily exercise. It must become something that is a prioritized part of every normal day, and not viewed as something exceptional that we do on certain days or when we do not have anything else to do. Once exercise becomes something that is a fun, routine and fundamental part of our daily lives, it is much easier to sustain. And by sustaining exercise, that is when we get to see the real benefits. However, children will usually not develop the exercise habit unless it is both modeled and encouraged by their parents. So how do we do that, and do it safely?
First, exercise should be both social and fun. Exercise is a form of play, and both solo and team sports can be a great way to establish the exercise habit. If it is treated as a chore or work, no one will enjoy it, and children will not continue with it. The other thing that will discourage children from exercise are injuries. To avoid injuries, parents need to be informed of the risks and take preventative steps.
Occasional bumps and bruises are expected when kids play sports, but for more than 1.35 million children last year, a sports-related injury was severe enough to send them to a hospital emergency department. A report from the US found that in 2012, 12% of all ER visits (163,670) involved a concussion, the equivalent of one every three minutes. Sprains and strains, fractures, contusions, abrasions and concussions top the list of sports-related ER diagnoses for kids ages 6 to 19. One in five kids who go to ERs for treatment of an injury is there for sports injuries according to the non-profit advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide. Nearly half (47%) were in kids ages 12 to 15. The most common injuries were to the ankle (15%), followed by head (14%) finger (12%), knee (9%) and face (7%). Most of these injuries are predictable and preventable.
Head injuries are particularly worrisome, given research showing that younger athletes take a longer time to heal than older athletes after traumatic brain injury, because their brains are still growing. And a second concussion later can cause even more problems. The new report shows that in sports in which both girls and boys participate, girls report a higher percentage of concussions (head injuries). Among youth basketball players, for example, 11.5% of girls seen in the ER are diagnosed with concussions, compared with 7.2% of boys. Among soccer (football) players, it’s 17.1% of girls compared with 12.4% of boys. The researchers are not sure why that is.
So my message is to get out there and be active with your kids. Encourage them to get involved and exercise every day, but take the time to buy the proper protective equipment and make sure they wear it every time!