Physical Activities 101

Dr. Jorge Gomez

Expert: Dr. Jorge Gomez, Sports Medicine Specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus

In the last 30 years, obesity has doubled in children and nearly quadrupled in adolescents, with the United States having the highest rate in the world. Physical activity is essential for a child’s cardiovascular endurance, strength and bone health. As a result, parents are curious as to how much is too much when it comes to physical activities for their kids.

Q: How do I know when to encourage and when to stop?

Many child fitness experts, as well as The Center for Disease Control (CDC), currently recommend 60 minutes per day of physical activity for children ages seven to 12. Normally, kids are good about regulating their physical activity; they’ll stop when they become tired. Over-exercising in children is often a result of being pushed to keep going by an adult. Simply asking a child if they’ve had enough of a certain activity is not always effective. Children like to impress coaches and parents and will say they can keep going. Generally, if a child appears they’re no longer interested or having fun, it’s time to stop the activity.

Q: What are the dangers of over-exercise?

Children who over-exercise face the same injuries or risks as adults, such as overuse injuries, heat exhaustion or joint injuries due to fatigue or burnout. Burnout occurs when a child develops a strong dislike for a particular sport or activity. It is especially detrimental for kids, because play is an essential part in a child’s physical, emotional, intellectual and social development.

Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus. Photo by A. Kramer

Q: Should children spend more time doing free play or organized sports?

While organized sports offer physical activity and discipline, children’s health experts are warning parents about the disappearance of free play. Free play allows kids the opportunity to experience different types of movements, problem solving and social interactions that they would not obtain from organized sports. Although organized sports can be rewarding for children, they should spend more time in free play.

Q: How important is maintaining a healthy diet?

It’s important for children – involved in organized sports or not – to maintain a healthy diet. They need to consume plenty of water and avoid excessive amounts of fatty, processed and sugary foods. Children should eat three meals a day – not skipping breakfast – and one or two snacks; this should include five servings of fruits and vegetables and three servings of dairy or equivalent calcium-rich foods. Giving your child a multivitamin can be beneficial, as vitamin D and iron are two of the most common dietary deficiencies in children. However, supplements, besides vitamin D and iron, have no proven benefit to children and should never be given as a substitute for a well-balanced diet.

For more information about Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, visit westcampus.texaschildrens.org or call 832-227-1000.