In recent years there has been a huge increase in the number of children I see in my practice Spinal Joint, they present with a variety of problems; headaches, earaches, back and neck pain. Twenty years ago all you saw were “growing pains” in the back and down the legs , now you see a broad range of problems, similar to what you would see with adults who work in offices. I have no doubt this change is due to the concept of “play” becoming something you do sitting at a computer. There has been a dramatic change in children’s lifestyles with regard to movement and play since the “Gameboy” was introduced in the 90s and we are storing up massive heath problems for the first generation that is not expected to live as long as their parents.
As a child I was on the go for hours every day, running, playing football . I coach handball and
football at the Thames Ditton Junior School, fun loving children who are active, but there is no comparison with the level of fitness of children, I played with 50 years ago. And its frightening to consider the health prospects of children who go straight home to their computers after school and sit there for hours. When I was a boy it was not unusual to see 11 year olds smoking, yet many parent are happy to allow children to sit for hours at a computer. When according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) they should be having at least one hour of rigorous physical activity a day.
The irony is, that in this sedentary environment that has been created, some parents are now worried about the risks to children who like to do a lot of exercise, especially girls who traditionally were not given much encouragement to be active in the UK. Fortunately these dated attitudes are changing as demonstrated by the massive increase in girls football but there is still a long way to go. I sometimes take my children up to the Summer road Rec, a local playground, with a football pitch and small goals and I am amazed to find its usually empty. When I was a child it would have been heaving with children playing 20 a side football matches and another 10 waiting for someone to go home so they can get on the pitch.
I was recently asked by a parent how much activity was too much for a child, as her daughter enjoyed running and she was worried she might be over doing it. To be honest I had never considered really considered the question, run until you drop or it gets dark was our philosophy. Yes there are two main overuse injuries which occur in children, whose muscle strength exceeds the ability of under developed bones to deal with the forces generated running and jumping. These disorders are called “Osgood Schlatters” which is a problem just under the front of the kneecap and “Severs disease” a problem in a childs heel bone. These problems are rare and usually occur in young child athletes who get pushed too hard to play on all the teams before their bones are strong enough or have ossified to cope with the larger than normal muscle forces. The treatment is “management”; rest and moderate activity that does not put too much weight bearing stress on the lower limbs for possibly up to 6 months.
To improve health, young people need to do “aerobic exercise” this should range from moderate activity, such as cycling and playground activities, to vigorous activity, such as running, jumping, cycling, climbing walls, competitive sport etc ect. It elevates the heart rate as you use more Oxygen to create energy and the intensity level should be so that you can continue it for at least 20 minutes as you get fitter you increase the duration. The health benefits of this type of exercise were first recognised by Dr Keneth Cooper in the 50s and his 12 minute test is an excellent way to evaluate fitness levels and progress. You measure how far the participants have travelled in 12 minutes walking running and you can compare it with the average for the same age group on a chart
While its great when children walk to school, its not nearly enough exercise, they need activity to raise the heart rate that makes them sweat and makes them stronger, I hate that rule in netball where the referee decides who has the best hold on the ball rather than allowing the children to use their muscles and get stronger. Vigorous activity is linked to better general health, stronger bones and muscles, regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and help maintain a healthy weight as well as higher levels of self-esteem.
In the 80s English football was criticised because it put so much emphasis on the fitness of its players and neglected technique. The FA has spent the last 30 years developing drills to develop technique forgetting you can play football if you are not fit. I coach football and handball at our local primary school, small sided games are designed so children can get lots of touches on the ball, however with only 6 players on the pitch they have to have the fitness to move up the pitch together and be able to get back to defend and very few of our kids have this ability and they have been shocked by the amount of running i make them do, it will make them better at football but most of all it will make them healthier and reduce their predisposition to the illness I have named above, not forgetting type 2 Diabetes which is increasing exponentially. I applaud the efforts of Stirling Primary School in Scotland making all children run a mile each day in addition to PE lessons. Makes a change from “academic” Heads selling off playing fields for development when they were short of money, one of the reasons I decided teaching PE was not for me in 1976, crowd control was more important than children’s health and well being.
Autumn is here and Winter is just around the corner, dont make the cold an excuse for not children not exercising; when you exercise vigorously enough you get warm pretty quickly, I have never canceled a leason bbvecause of the weather, we have been out in rain and snow. So get children off the computers and moving as we did 40 years ago!