Athletics and Good Health

Athletics promote a healthy way of life

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we love it when our parents encourage healthy habits in their children, especially exercise. We believe that physical activity should be as much a part of kids’ routines as eating, sleeping, schoolwork and all the other activities of their young lives.

Sports such as soccer, cycling (always with a helmet), swimming, basketball, lacrosse, jogging, skiing, dancing, aerobics, gymnastics, horseback riding, even walking briskly, are not only fun but promote good health.

Check with your child’s pediatrician regarding athletics

This is a good time to consult with your pediatrician about the role athletics can and should play in your child’s life, and if he/she has any physical limitations that need to be taken into account. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we have a sports medicine specialist on our team who has received specific training in the diagnosis and treatment of sports-related injuries and conditions. If your pediatrician feels that your child would benefit from seeing this specialist, he/she will make a referral.

Physical activity is good for your child in so many ways:

1) Increases cardiovascular endurance

Americans die from heart disease more than any other illness. Not only does regular physical activity help prevent heart problems, it improves your child’s fitness and strengthens his/her cardiovascular system. By making the heart pump more efficiently, exercise reduces high blood pressure and also raises blood levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” form of cholesterol that cleanses excess fats from the bloodstream.

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we recommend that your elementary or middle school child should exercise at least 3 times a week for 20-30 minutes at a heart rate above resting level. (Even continuous brisk walking is adequate to maintain fitness.)

2) Improves large muscle strength and endurance

As your child’s muscles become stronger, he/she will be able to exercise for longer periods of time. Strong muscles also provide better support for the joints, which helps prevent injuries. Modified sit-ups (knees bent, feet on the ground) can build up abdominal muscles, increase lung capacity and protect against back injuries. For upper body strength, your child can do modified pull-ups (keeping the arms flexed while hanging from a horizontal bar) and modified push-ups (positioning the knees on the ground while extending the arms at the elbow).

3) Increases Flexibility

When children are flexible, they are more agile. Although most of us lose flexibility as we age, stretching can slow down this process and help maintain suppleness throughout life, beginning in childhood. Stretching exercises are the best way to maintain or improve flexibility, and they’re easy for your child to do. In most stretching exercises, your child should stretch to a position where he/she begins to feel tightness but not pain, then hold the position for 20-30 seconds before relaxing. He/she should not bounce while stretching; this can cause injury to the muscles or tendons.

4) Maintains a healthy weight

Twelve percent of children in the pre-puberty years are overweight. Not surprisingly, few of these kids are physically active. It’s a well-known fact that exercise can burn calories and fat, reduce appetite and help children maintain a healthy weight. Consult with your pediatrician to determine whether your child has a healthy percentage of body fat for his/her sex and age.

5) Reduces stress

Unmanaged stress can cause muscle tightness which can lead to headaches, stomachaches, stiff necks and many other uncomfortable conditions. Fortunately, exercise is one of the best ways to diffuse stress. A physically active child is much less likely to experience stress-related symptoms than kids who are mostly inactive.