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Should we be encouraging kids to work out?

Newshub logoNewshub 7/06/2018 Sarah Templeton
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As a child, I had a natural fitness I would give anything to have now.

Need to get to the playground across school? I ran there. Need to get to the top of the playground? I pulled myself up the monkey bars.

I moved effortlessly without thinking about it - now I have to really rally to get through a spin class.

But nowadays, kids have to think about it.

With childhood obesity on the up and New Zealand the third most obese nation in the OECD, there's a call for kids to move more - at least 60 minutes a day, according to official guidelines. It's the order we've heard so many times from doctors, breakfast TV experts, Michelle Obama... put down the screens and get outside.

But should we be taking kids to the gym, or at least involving them in our at home workouts?

Workouts for children have been circulating lately; with guides like these ones from Health Digest demonstrating strength training exercises like push-ups and crunches for kids.

And kids aren't limited to sweating it out at home.

Crossfit NZ offers Auckland teens and children after-school Crossfit classes. According to the company's website, the classes involve exercises "fundamental to all things kids do when they play - pull, push, run, throw, climb, lift and jump".

"For the most part, no two workouts are the same, so kids and teens never get bored and the novelty of each workout keeps them excited about participating," the page reads.

My First Gym in Christchurch offers children aged 8-10 classes developing "fitness components" and "resistance-based" training.

Celebrity trainer to the stars David Kirsch showed how resistance training is a family affair back in January, when he posted this video of himself and his young daughter performing goblet squats with a free weight in the gym.

A quick and unofficial poll around the Newshub newsroom had our reporters split on the issue. Some thought it was fine for kids to plank and squat, others were confused why kids weren't playing tag and jump jam like "we did 'back in the day" (from a 24 and 26-year-old reporter, respectively).

One of our sports reporters thought it was "totally fine", as long as they were just using their body weight. "If [free] weights were involved it would be a different story," he added.

Another reporter said he didn't think it was a good idea, as kids' bodies aren't fully developed. "I also wouldn't want kids developing body image issues as a result of wanting to be tight and toned at a young age".

Psychologist Deanne Jade, founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders in the UK, told the Telegraph there may be problems with an obsession with body image. "When children start staring into mirrors while they work out, I think they are more likely to start comparing body parts. When it comes to working out, boys in particular can be prone to getting hung up on their physique."

However, NZ clinical exercise physiologist Megan McEwen believes encouraging kids to exercise from early age carries nothing but benefits.

"Due to alarming and growing health statistics, it couldn't be more important that we start our children exercising at a young age and start influencing healthy behaviours as early as possible," she told Newshub.

She says whether it means your kids watching you work out on the living room floor, or even getting involved, "it's very difficult to go wrong".

"Understandably, parents may have concerns getting their wee ones performing more 'formal' exercise movements," she acknowledged. "However, children need exercise just as much, if not more, than us adults do."

"If you think of the many - and often very surprising - positions that children manage to get themselves into every day, and the copious amounts of energy they already expend, these types of movements and the systems being required of them are not too dissimilar."

She pointed out that it didn't mean you should "take your sprouts to the gym every day", but regular resistance exercise wasn't something parents should be afraid of encouraging.

"Moral of the story; keeping your children fit and healthy, with the added addition of doing something fun with mum and dad, will have the best outcome for not only their physical health but also their mental, emotional and intellectual health," McEwan says.

"Children are resilient, and exercise will only improve their resilience, so they are best prepared for our fast-paced, ever-changing, modern world as they blossom into healthy and happy young adults."

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