Hop, skip and jump your way to a stronger you
Health and fitness expert RUTH LYNCH looks at why our kids are not as strong today as they were 20 years ago – and what we can do about it
C HILDREN are becoming physically weaker, according to a recent report from the University of Essex. The team, compared the strength and fitness of 10-year-olds from Essex between 1998 and 2014.
They found children had become heavier and taller but scored worse in tests including sit-ups and grip strength. The children’s body mass index (BMI) stayed the same because although they were heavier they are also taller.
It had been expected that because the children had grown bigger they would have also grown stronger.
So why has the muscular strength of our children decreased in the past twenty years? Experts believe that the drop in the number and length of PE lessons delivered in schools, safety concerns, plus increased time spent on social media and online are the main reasons.
The Government recommends that children up to 18 years do 60 minutes of activity a day and three of those days should include strengthening exercises. Adults should be doing 150 minutes of exercise per week, with two lots of strengthening exercises.
WHEN we say strengthening exercises, what does that mean? Many people will think of pumping iron, or working with ridiculously heavy weights, but that’s just one type of strengthening exercise.
A strengthening exercise is any exercise that makes your muscles work harder than usual, using your body weight or some type of resistance, like a dumbbell or weight machine. Strengthening exercises increase and develop muscles, while helping maintain a healthy weight.
Building muscles is important for correct development in children, helping them grow into healthy adults and helping protect them against injury. As adults age strength continues to be important, making everyday activities easier and keeping you active for longer.
With that in mind, what can we do to improve our children’s (and our own) strength?
YOU don’t need any fancy equipment to build up your children’s (and your) strength. Lots of activities and exercises help build strength just using body weight – perfect for the family to do together.
Calf raises – from standing, lift up onto your tiptoes, hold and then lower. You can turn this into a game and pretend to be ballerinas, superheroes, climbers or fairies – perfect for doing indoors on a rainy day.
Climbing – you don’t have to climb trees or rocks to get a body benefit (though it’s a fun way to do so), any climbing will help work and strengthen up those muscles. Climbing over small walls, up the stairs, the wrong way up a slide or on play equipment all counts. Even climbing over the furniture, but we’re not going to get in trouble by suggesting that!
Dancing – movement classes like dancing, yoga and martial arts are a great way to move your body and build strength through resistance. There are lots of classes in schools, gyms, leisure centres and community buildings. However, you can also gain the same benefits by dancing round the house to your favourite tracks – why not let each family member choose their favourite song?
Go exploring – hiking, walking in the countryside and playing stepping stones across a river are all great ways to build up strength and enjoy the great outdoors together. A fun, family day out won’t even feel like exercise. Handstands, somersaults and cartwheels – remember those sunny days when you’d spend ages seeing who could do a handstand for the longest time? Why not recreate these fun days in the garden
or park with your kids and show them how you used to play? Start off against a wall and see how many attempts it takes you to do a full one.
Hop about – jumping and hopping are great ways to build strength, especially in the lower core, which helps maintain our balance. Why not try trampolining, skipping or hopscotch? As adults you could try boxercise and trampoline HIIT classes to get the same benefits kids do in the playground.
Household chores – we all know that kids hate helping with chores, but they actually help keep them healthy. Sweeping, mopping and carrying shopping are great ways to build strength and get those muscles moving.
Obstacle course – moving your body in multiple ways and using different muscles to balance is a great way to build up your strength. You can either go to an obstacle course in your local park, go to an indoor play centre or set one up from household items in the garden (or indoors if it’s raining). To make it more interesting, why not time each family member and see who can do it the fastest?
Swimming – pulling yourself through the water offers great resistance for our muscles and gives a whole-body workout. Swimming is also a great rainy-day activity.
Wheelbarrow walking – one person lies on the floor and the other takes hold of their ankles, the person on the floor then lifts themselves up on their hands and walks forwards. Why not make it into a wheelbarrow race? To make it more difficult, try wheel barrowing backwards.
There are lots of easy, fun and imaginative ways to help develop your children’s muscles, with plenty of opportunities for you to join in too. If it’s hard to get the kids moving, why not reward them with 15 minutes of screen time for every hour of movement?
Building strength to improve life-long health can be as simple as playing some traditional childhood games