Youth Fitness and Nutrition

Children are spending more and more time in front of the television or playing video games. It is no wonder more and more American children are overweight and out of shape. Children who are not taught to live a healthy lifestyle will most likely grow up to be unfit adults. What can you do to help the child or children in your life become fit? It is not an easy task in a time where physical education classes are only offered twice a week or in many cases not at all.
Children should be encouraged to be physically active. Playing tag at recess is a better alternative to trading the latest trading cards. If organized sports are offered in your area get your child involved. If your child does better in a one-on-one sport you might get them involved in karate or golf lessons. Children who are involved in sports have better self-esteem and are less likely to get into trouble.

Strength training is an excellent way to introduce your child to exercise. While heavy weight training is not advised for children, strength training has several benefits. By strength training I mean the use of body strength such as push-ups, the use of resistance bands and, for children in their teens, lifting weights. The benefits of resistance training are:

Possible injury prevention
Prevention of cardiovascular disease
Reduction in childhood obesity
Reduction and control of high blood pressure
Improved flexibility
Development of coordination and balance
An improvement in self-confidence
An improvement in sports performance
An improvement in overall health
Establishing fitness as a way of life
Children from the ages of five to 12 have a lower tolerance to exercise, and strength-training routines should be more of a learning experience. They should be taught the basics of exercise, how to monitor their heart rate, benefits of warming up and cooling down and correct body alignment.

Children who are 12 to 17 should be encouraged to pursue activities that they enjoy and are willing to participate in. The motivation for strength training at this age may be to improve body image. According to the United States Weight and Power Lifting Federation young children should not lift maximal weights until they reach the age of 14.

Below, I have listed some examples of different kinds of exercises that can be safely performed by children. Children should always exercise with adult supervision.


Stretches should be performed for both upper and lower body after a brief warm-up. The child should hold the position for a few seconds. They should never stretch in a bouncing motion. Bouncing is not safe or effective. Some examples of stretches that should be performed before exercising are:

Hamstring stretch
Hurdler’s stretch
Quadriceps Stretch
Calf Stretch
Triceps stretch
Shoulder and chest stretch
Rotator cuff stretch

Calisthenic exercises use the weight of the body for resistance. Resistance can be increased or decreased by changing body position or by doing more repetitions. Some examples of calisthenic exercises are:

Bench dips
Reverse crunches
Back extensions
Calf raises
Tubing and Exercise Bands

Exercise bands and tubing are a safe and effective way to develop strength. Tubing comes in different lengths and tensions. When finding the correct tension you should be able to do at least 10 repetitions. Before increasing the tension you should be able to do 20 repetitions. Some examples of exercises that can be done with tubing and resistance bands are:

Seated shoulder press
Standing chest press
Side Bends
Lat pull downs
Triceps extensions
Bicep curls
Wrist curls
Leg curls
Calf raises
Free Weights and Weight Machines

Free weights and machines are the most common form of strength training. This form of exercise is safer and is more effective when young athletes have developed physically. Lifting free weights is not recommended for children under the age of 12. When training with free weights and machines all children should follow safety guidelines.

Never exercise without supervision
Always use proper technique and form
Lift in a slow and controlled fashion
When picking up a weight, lift with your knees and keep your back straight
Rest at least 60 seconds between exercises
Breath out during the explosive part of the lift
Nutrition and Supplements

There are three basic foods. They are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Each of them provides energy to our bodies. A variety of foods should be eaten to maintain a balanced diet. A ratio of 55 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat and 15 percent protein is considered a good diet. You can help your child make good nutritional choices by following the Food Guide Pyramid. The following is an example of the number of servings an average teenager should eat per day. Younger children require approximately one or two servings less per day in each category.

Breads, cereal, rice and pasta group – 11 servings
Vegetable group – five servings
Fruit group – four servings
Milk, yogurt and cheese group – two or three servings
Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts group – three servings
There are two kinds of carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates, which include sugar, glucose and honey, and complex carbohydrates, which include grains, beans, vegetables and rice. When consumed, carbohydrates are converted by your digestive system to blood sugar called glucose. Glucose is stored in your liver and in muscle cells. Your brain operates with the help of glucose in your blood as energy. Eating complex carbohydrates provides high energy and a more stabilized blood-sugar level. Eating protein enhances muscle growth. The main function of protein is growth and repair. Some examples of good sources of protein are wheat germ, soybeans, kidney beans, black beans and lentils. Both carbohydrates and protein contain four calories per gram. Fat on the other hand contains nine calories per gram. No more than 30 percent of a diet should consist of fatty foods according to the American Heart Association. A diet high in fat can place added stress on the heart and joints and can result in decreased efficiency of the body.

Vitamins are essential for tissue building, energy release, digestion and cell building. A balanced diet is the ideal source of vitamins, but most people do not eat a balanced diet. Because of this a multi-vitamin is recommended to ensure that all the important vitamins are being obtained.

Minerals are necessary for the growth and repair of teeth and bones, function of body fluids and secretions and metabolic activity. Essential minerals are calcium, iron, iodine and phosphorus. Calcium can be found in milk, cheese and green vegetables. Sources of iron are orange juice, liver and lean cuts of meat. Seafood is a source of iodine, and you can find phosphorus in milk and cheese.

Water is very important and is necessary for maintaining the body’s temperature, assisting with chemical reactions and transporting materials. The total body weight is made up of approximately 70 percent water. It is recommended that two to three quarts be consumed each day.

With the information provided here you are well on your way to helping the child or children in your life lead healthy and active lifestyles. Turn off the television and take a walk with your kids. Leading a healthy lifestyle makes for happier children who are less likely to suffer from eating disorders, peer pressure and poor self-image.

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