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How to Raise Athletes... Not Couch Potatoes


Kids differ from adults in two basic ways. First, they laugh a lot more than we do. Their primary theme in life is to play and have fun. Secondly, they are far more active than Canadian adults, who seldom expend enough physical energy to relieve their mental stress or compensate for the food they love to eat. But times have changed. Children are conforming to the role models of their parents, spending less and less time building forts and climbing trees. Instead, you might find them in front of a computer or glued to a TV set.

Long hours perched in front of a monitor or big screen lends itself to a certain kind of physical stagnation. Especially TV. It definitely encourages overeating and the consumption of junk food, which destroys one’s motivation to move. Since television was introduced into the island paradise of Fiji in 1995, there has been a huge increase in the incidence of eating disorders among young females. TV and bingeing go hand-in-hand.

Obesity is a Health Hazard

Children are 10lbs. heavier today at age 10 than a decade ago. And it’s not functional well-hydrated muscle. Obesity has become a modern plague. Excess body fat, caused by the synergy of poor nutrition and inactivity, increases the risk of almost every disease and leads to an early grave. Did you know that one of the single best measures for a long and healthy life is a trim waistline?

Keeping kids lean, fit and well nourished until they reach the age of accountability is a major feat in this modern era. Obesity has little to do with genetics (nature). In spite of one’s metabolic predisposition, environment (nurture) and lifestyle still override every known factor. We know that overweight kids almost always have overweight parents. But take a close look at what they eat and then count the number of times they’ve been to the gym in the last month. Excess adipose tissue affects more than how we look or how fast we can run. And it’s more than just a reserve of surplus energy. Excess body fat is deadly.

Nutrition Counts Big Time!

If allowed to choose without fear of reprimand, most kids would not select a glass of fresh carrot juice, green vegetables, turkey breast or brown rice. Instead, they tend to zero in on commercial cereals (breakfast candy), packaged noodle soups, soft drinks and finger foods like pizza pops, French fries and sweets. Their world of nutrition is ruled by taste and texture rather than by culinary art and biochemical science. The amount of dead processed empty food that kids eat today is unbelievable.

Poor nutrition negatively affects children emotionally, mentally, socially and physiologically. Without optimum amounts of essential micronutrients, including B-complex vitamins, vitamin C & E, zinc, magnesium and chromium, young people become apathetic, moody and lose enthusiasm. Food allergies and food sensitivities are also to blame.

Our kids are eating hundreds of pounds of white flour, white rice and sucrose every year, and that’s enough processed high-glycemic carbohydrate to destroy anyone’s insulin metabolism. Decades of reactive hypoglycemia sets up our children for prescription and recreational drug abuse & dependency, and by middle age it leads to the development of Syndrome X*. And don’t think because they are young food quality doesn’t matter. Over time, oxidizing burgers and ice cream damages them on the inside. Instead of “burning it off” it burns them out. The quality of the food they eat today with specific reference to protein, carbohydrates and fats, ABSOLUTELY determines the outcome of their health and body weight tomorrow.

Important dietary supplements and sport nutrition products for kids include: essential fatty acids (especially omega-3), a multiple vitamin/mineral complex, additional antioxidants, meal replacements, whey protein, L-glutamine, friendly bacteria (probiotics) and energy sport bars (sugar-free and no hydrogenates). Regarding risk I’ll quote a friend who knows, “Vitamins and minerals are about as toxic as lemonade”, (Optimum Sports Nutrition, 1993, Dr. Michael Colgan, pg 461).

Kids need to be Active

Encourage children to go outside in the fresh air as much as possible. Up to age 3 or 4, the best physical activity is natural movement achieved through running, chasing balls, playing tag, digging, climbing and spending time at the park. When the time comes, teach your child how to ride a bicycle. Introduce them to in-line skating, skateboarding or buy them a foot-scooter. Emphasize safety and prevention of injury.

Swimming is excellent, although most public pools are too heavily chlorinated (compensate with extra vitamin E and CoQ10). Dance lessons and gymnastics teach rhythm, neuromuscular balance and improve coordination. I also recommend Martial Arts programs for children of all ages, as well as community sport and game time.

As your son or daughter develops interest, expose them to a wide variety of seasonal sports. Let them drop out after a couple of sessions if they don’t care for the experience, but teach them to hang in there once committed. Communicate with them, but don’t force or pressure them into something for your benefit, image or ego. Not all kids gravitate towards organized sport but all kids should move their bodies daily and learn the basic fundamentals of exercise management. It’s no less essential than reading, writing and arithmetic.

Should Youngsters Lift Weights?

Dr. Avery Faigenbaum, Ph.D. of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, says 7-12 year old kids can increase their strength by up to 40 percent if they follow an 8-12 week program of strength training. Such activity is of particular benefit to pre-adolescent girls, who can increase bone-mineral density and build up their bone bank to help prevent osteoporosis.

The American College of Sports Medicine officially endorses weight-training for children, but recommends adult instruction and supervision, proper warm-up and cool-down, a medical exam if there are any existing health conditions, 1-3 sets of 6-15 reps two-three times weekly on nonconsecutive days, avoidance of maximal, heavy lifting and emphasis on technique and safety, not the amount of weight.

Experience is a Good Teacher

At age twelve, all my teachers and coaches warned me not to lift weights, as this behavior would slow me down, stunt my growth and reduce my flexibility. I clearly remember my high school math teacher saying that weight training would enlarge my heart disproportionately and increase my risk of having a heart attack. He later died in his early fifties from a cardiac arrest. Good thing I didn’t listen to any of them, because at 42 I can run faster than ever, I’m taller than my father and 3 brothers and I can do the splits. I’ve been pumping iron now for 30 consecutive years without injury.

One of the best things I ever did was take up resistance training at an early age. It improved my strength, gave me an edge in competitive sport, added functional muscle to my physique, improved my diet, prevented sport-related joint injuries, gave me more self-confidence and taught me about patience and discipline. I also discovered an amazing secret. Every principle associated with developing health & fitness in the gym can be applied to everyday living with the same degree of reliability and success.

If a child lives in a health conscious spiritual environment, there is a good chance that s/he will be influenced in a positive way. Children learn what they live and live what they learn. Their lives are a testimony to our commitment, and what more could any parent desire, than to see their own beloved children and grandchildren grow up in excellent health and achieve a rich and meaningful lifestyle.

* Syndrome X. Characterized by a cluster of health problems, which include having insulin resistance and one or more of the following: glucose intolerance, obesity, high cholesterol, high triglycerides and high blood pressure.

References

Syndrome X, 2000, Challem, Berkson & Smith
Sugar Busters, 1995, Steward, Bethea, Andrews & Balart
Muscular Development, October 1999, Volume 36, Number 10
The New Nutrition, 1994, Colgan, M. PhD