It was once thought that children and adolescents should be treated as “miniature adults” in regards to response and adaptation to exercise, but we now know because of research by pediatric exercise physiologists that there are differences as well as similarities between children, adolescents, and adults. The transformation to the start of adulthood happens in three phases: infancy, childhood, and adolescence. It is important to differentiate between these processes as the state of growth, development, and maturation of the various body systems and / or functions may vary greatly.
What does this mean to you? Your understanding of the growth and development of your child is important because you can learn the potential impacts of certain sports activities and exercises.
A child reaches 50% of its adult height by the age of 2 and progressively slows down throughout childhood. When puberty arrives there is a brief spike in growth, but it is followed by a dramatic decrease in rate soon after. Full adult height is “attained at an average of about 16 years in girls and 18 years in boys.” This chronological information is important to the pediatric exercise physiologists because he or she can gauge the skeletal maturity of the child or adolescent and have acute acknowledge of their developmental stage in this process. During the growth and development process, “membranes and cartilage are transformed into bone through a process of ossification, or bone formation.” Knowledge of this complex process of bone development will aid in the creation of appropriate weight-bearing exercises that can help promote bone width and density, increasing bone strength. It is of note to mention that weight-bearing exercise does not seem to have an effect on bone lengthening. Moreover, developmental stage awareness can also aid in providing the correct nutrient guidance to our youths, thus effecting bone maturation. For example, lack of the nutrient calcium during bone development years can lead to brittle bones that are more prone to injury.
What does this mean to you? It means your children should exercise; moving in ways that help them build stronger bones with weight-bearing exercises like running. Additionally, during these growing years, you can be more aware of their nutrient intake and encourage them to eat healthily, providing them with a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Body muscle mass progressively increases from birth through adolescence with much of the muscle development occurring during the puberty years. As there are slight differences in the bone maturation process of girls and boys, it is markedly so that girls do not experience the same muscle growth during puberty as boys, although muscle mass does gradually increase. This difference is largely due in part to hormonal differences.
What does this mean to you? Knowing the muscle growth and development stage of your child or adolescent will help in creating a proper diet and exercise regiment that will help maintain or increase muscle mass in their body. For example, during the high growth periods of puberty you may want to provide your children with healthy choices of protein with each meal in order for them to have enough amino acid to build muscle. Whether or not your child will be heavily into sports, it is important that they grow into strong and healthy adults so that they can thrive in normal life. Additionally, having good health and fostering healthy habits from an early age is the best prevention plan from becoming a sickly adult.
The physiological systems of the body, specifically the nervous system, through its growth, development and maturation process distinctly improves the balance, agility, and coordination of the child and adolescent. For example, “Myelination of the nerve fibers must be completed before fast reactions and skilled movement can occur because conduction of an impulse along a nerve fiber is considerably slower if myelination is absent or incomplete.” Therefore, with this valuable information, it can be concluded that here in lies a distinct difference in the physiological systems of children and adolescence to that of adults, thus markedly influencing their response and adaptation to exercise or sport activity. It is worth mentioning as well that the development in strength is also more than likely influenced by myelination.
What does this mean to you? It’s saying that your child’s brain and body are still getting to know each other and that he or she is not as strong and coordinated as a full grown adult. In childhood, the middle age years of 7-12 are where children begin to develop better gross motor skills like running, skipping, and bicycle riding. Children at this age group should concentrate on improving coordination and take part in activities such as dance, children’s gymnastics, or participate in activities involving obstacles and running. Click here for more activities.
Cardiovascular function goes through significant changes as children grow and mature. Since blood pressure is directly related to size, at rest and during submaximal levels of exercise, blood pressure is lower in children than adults. “In addition, blood flow to active muscles during exercise in children can be greater for a given volume of muscle than adults because children have less peripheral resistance.” Moreover, a child’s cardiac output is somewhat lower than that of an adult due in part to the size of the child’s heart.
What does this mean to you? As a child grows, his heart size, heart rate, blood volume, stroke volume increases, thus increasing cardiac output (amount of blood flow from the heart during a specified period of time). Knowing this information can lead to appropriate applications of exercise and nutrition that will positively effect their physiological systems and function maturation to adulthood.
In summary, at any age, your child should participate in activities best suited for his or her age and body development. For example, in infancy, encourage activities like crawling, rolling, walking, and jumping to aid in bone development and begin stability training. In childhood, encourage running, skipping, and dancing to create better coordination, strength, and agility. In adolescents, encourage sport activities such as swimming, soccer, baseball, volleyball, etc. Nurture their potential by concertedly cultivating healthy habits of exercise and good nutrition and watch them grow into healthy and strong adults!
TNT (Till Next Tuesday =)
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