Originally posted here by Dr. Jorge Gomez, Sports Medicine Specialist – West Campus at Texas Children’s Hospital

In the last 30 years, obesity has doubled in children and nearly quadrupled in adolescents, with the U.S. having the highest rate in the world. Physical activity is essential for a child’s cardiovascular endurance, strength and bone health. As a result, parents are curious as to how much is too much when it comes to physical activities for their kids.

Exercise: Know when to encourage and when to stop

Many child fitness experts as well as The Center for Disease Control (CDC) currently recommend 60 minutes per day of physical activity for children ages 7 to 12. Normally, kids are good about regulating their physical activity; they’ll stop when they become tired. Over-exercising in children is often a result of being pushed to keep going by an adult. Simply asking a child if they’ve had enough of a certain activity is not always effective. Children like to impress coaches and parents, and will say they can keep going. Generally, if a child appears they’re no longer interested or having fun it’s time to stop the activity.

Dangers of over-exercise

Children who over-exercise face the same injuries or risks as adults such as: over-use injuries, heat exhaustion or joint injuries due to fatigue or burnout. Burnout occurs when a child develops a strong dislike for a particular sport or activity; it is especially detrimental for kids because play is an essential part in a child’s physical, emotional, intellectual and social development.

Free play vs. organized sports

While organized sports offer physical activity and discipline, children’s health experts are warning parents about the disappearance of free play. Free play allows kids the opportunity to experience different types of movements, problem solving and social interactions that they would not obtain from organized sports. Although organized sports can be rewarding for children, they should spend more time in free play.

Maintaining a healthy diet

It’s important for children – involved in organized sports or not – to maintain a healthy diet. They need to consume plenty of water and avoid excessive amounts of fatty, processed, sugary foods. Children should eat three meals a day – not skipping breakfast – and one or two snacks; this should include five servings of fruits and vegetables and three servings of dairy or equivalent calcium-rich foods. Giving your child a multivitamin can be beneficial, as vitamin D and iron are two of the most common dietary deficiencies in children. However, supplements, besides vitamin D and iron, have no proven benefit to children and should never be given as a substitute for a well-balanced diet.

To learn more about sports medicine at Texas Children’s, click here.