Weekly Wellness: Youth, body composition and athleticism

<p>AP Photos</p>

AP Photos

Our weekly fitness column, “Weekly Wellness,” is back again. This week, Matt Gallagher, from MFC Sports Performance in Darien, talks about why physical activity is crucial for our kids development.

In previous articles, I discussed the importance of focusing fitness efforts on body fat, muscle weight and recomposition of the body. Along the same lines, strength training is a vital component of the fitness spectrum for boosting the metabolism and losing body fat. Taking a step forward, mobility is crucial for the human body to remain healthy and supple, as well as generate maximum force and power in athletics.  

I wanted to establish this basic understanding of fitness because all of this applies to kids as well. And this is not just for kids competing in athletics, but all kids in general. Our physical education system is extremely inadequate in producing healthy, strong bodies for our youth today. Combine that with video games, smart phones and our fast-paced lifestyles, and our youth today are sitting more than ever, becoming restricted, immobile and overweight as a result.

Very few American kids are exposed to environments that not only help make them good athletes, but also set them up for a lifetime of good movement. In a New York Times article, which is actually almost two years old, some disturbing statistics were presented:

“In its biennial survey of high school students across the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in June that nearly half said they had no physical education classes in an average week. In New York City, that number was 20.5 percent, compared with 14.4 percent a decade earlier, according to the C.D.C.”

“That echoed findings by New York City’s comptroller, in October, of inadequate physical education at each of the elementary schools that auditors visited. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found just 20 percent of elementary schools in San Francisco’s system were meeting the state’s requirements: 20 minutes per day.”

The problem is not just about being overweight, either. Countless studies have shown that adequate physical activity is crucial for optimal brain function and the ability to focus in the classroom setting. Do we really expect our kids to average less than 20 minutes of physical activity per day and also demand that they sit still in their chairs and focus on the teacher for six or eight hours per day without twitching from boredom and lack of attentiveness? Is it really hard to see that A.D.D. might be greatly reduced in children if they were physically stimulated with exercise to support oxygen flow in the body and optimize brain function?  

I like to use the analogy of kids being like puppies. Kids need physical activity and exertion just like puppies do. I have a one year old dog at home and the only way I can make her not be insane is to walk or run her for at least 30 minutes every day. Otherwise she’s tearing our couch up and barking at every sound she hears all night.  

The Takeaway: 

I think we are really reaping what we sow in the United States, and our children are being affected the most. We are setting them up for a life of inadequate athleticism, inadequate mobility, drug medication and being overweight. I firmly believe that healthy, active kids are smarter and happier kids. What we are doing is just not working. It is time for our children to get moving, play freely outside, run around and burn some calories.

Matt Gallagher is the Fitness Director at MFC Sports Performance in Darien, which specializes in functional training for both adults and younger athletes. You can reach Matt by emailing him at Matt@MFCSportsPerformance.com

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