Keep Kids Active and Healthy This Winter

Dr. Jessica Rubinstein of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates provides parents tips and advice on keeping kids active when it's tough to play outside.

While shorter days and colder temperatures mean “cabin fever,” staying active when the snow or is falling is especially important for kids. The following is an article by Pediatrician Dr. Jessica Rubinstein of Associates with tips and advice on keeping kids active this winter:

As the temperature drops and “cabin fever” sets in, we all start to move a little slower and make excuses for cutting back on our exercise. Sure, it’s harder to leave your cozy bed in the morning and make it to that early morning exercise class, but it’s still important for you to maintain regular fitness routines throughout the winter months.

Staying active while the snow is falling is especially important for kids. During the spring, summer and fall, it’s easy for kids to participate in outdoor sports and activities, helping to maintain a healthy weight. To keep kids active or to help get them in shape for spring sports, hitting the gym is a fun and healthy alternative to the winter blues.

Here are some workout tips that kids should follow:

  • Always begin and end workouts by stretching. A 10 to 15 minute warm-up and a 10 to 15 minute cool-down are recommended. Painful growth plate conditions in growing kids can be prevented by or lessened with loose hamstrings and calf muscles.
  • Don’t forget about the core. Strengthening and stretching the muscles of the lower back, abdomen and buttocks improves balance and agility.
  • Drink water before, after and throughout workouts.
  • Avoid gyms where performance-enhancing substances are encouraged. Protein supplements and creatine add bulk to muscles but do not increase strength. Just like anabolic steroids, these supplements can cause injury to internal organs.
  • Vary your exercise routine. Prevent overuse injuries by using elliptical machines, bikes, treadmills and other equipment on a rotating schedule. Strength training routines are recommended only three days a week.

I am frequently asked “Is it safe for kids to lift weights?” The answer is both “yes” and “no.” As long as the strength training is done safely, responsibly and under the supervision of an adult, kids over the age of seven or eight can lift weights. However, the activities of powerlifting or extreme weight lifting are not safe for children until growth has stopped.

Growing children have open growth plates, which are areas of growing tissue near the ends of the long bones; because the growth plates are the weakest areas of the growing skeleton, they are more vulnerable to injury. Use of weights should be limited to an amount that is no more than the child’s own weight.

A safer alternative to weightlifting is resistance training, or doing exercises like push-ups or pull-ups. Light resistance and controlled movements are best: perform only a few sets of repetitions using elastic tubing or strength training machines.

It’s important to make sure both you and your child know how to work out safely. If you are unsure about anything, a fitness instructor or a member of your gym’s staff should be able to help you learn to train better. Understanding gym safety is essential in preventing injury, and conditioning proper technique is a skill kids will keep with them forever.

Dr. Jessica Rubinstein practices pediatrics for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates at Concord Hillside Medical Associates in Harvard, Massachusetts. She is also the Chairperson of Pediatrics at Emerson Hospital in Concord and the school physician for the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District. Harvard Vanguard offers pediatric care at 15 locations across greater Boston.  To find a pediatrician near you visit www.caremadeeasy.org.



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