Thursday, June 9, 2011

Remember, Children Aren't Just Little Adults!

Nothing makes my heart and mind feel better then seeing a smile on my daughters face.  It is after all infectious you know...her smile automatically causes me to smile.  This picture was taken after Renee completed the Princeton Health Care 10K this past weekend where she ran a great time and finished on the famed Princeton University Track.

Lydia celebrating Mommy's
great race this past weekend
with a victory lap of her own!
After looking at this picture for a while other thoughts entered my mind...Lydia loves to imitate mommy and daddy running, she loves to put her little tiny feet in our great big  running shoes and she also loves to scream "Go, Go, Go" to passing runner's just like mommy and daddy do when we watch others run!

Then my thoughts turned to thinking about Lydia's parents (Renee and I).  Man, we are pretty competitive...I wonder if that's going to wear off on Lydia in anyway (I think it already has)?
So, although she has only just ticked past the 1 1/2 year old mark in this picture it  leaves me with questions that I probably need to start coming up with answers for now.

How much exercise is too much?  What if when she's six she tells me she wants to run a 1/2 marathon just like mommy does, etc?

I'm sure many parents before me have asked themselves some of the same questions...among others.  So I hope to give a little guidance here today as well as give a little information on things to be on the look out for/aware of with the key premise in all of this "Remember, children aren't just little adults!"

Here's a list of considerations in no particular order...They're all important!

1. Most athletes report elite-level competition to be a positive experience, however early specialization leads to less consistent performance, more injuries and shortened careers vs. those who specialize after puberty.  Let kids be kids and try a variety of activities where the experience is the focus rather then competition.

2. Here's a very important one when considering activity in the heat.  The bottom line is that children do not adapt as well as adults to activity in the heat!  Here are a few specific reasons:
  1. Children produce less sweat from their immature sweat glands.  Evaporative cooling through sweating is the most powerful means for the body to cool itself.
  2. Children have a larger surface area/body weight ratio which causes the body to absorb more heat from the external environment, especially when air temperature exceeds skin temperature.
  3. At any temperature, children produce more heat per kg of body weight, meaning they have more heat to get rid of.
  4. Children take longer to adjust to being active in hot environments.  Typically a minimum of 14 days is required for complete acclimation.
  5. Inadequate hydration has a major impact on adults as well as children.  During exercise, core body temperature increases quickly which effects both motor and cognitive abilities.  Children must be taught to drink regularly (every 15-20 minutes) even when not thirsty.  Drinks with electrolytes like sodium and carbohydrates improve taste and fluid consumption.  Generally during the first hour of activity water is fine.  Following 1 hour switching to a beverage containing carbohydrates and electrolytes is recommended.
3.  If my child really wants to run, are there any guidelines as to how long and far can they run at a given age?
          Age                    Distance
         Under 9               3 km
            9-11                 5 km
           12-14                10 km
           15-16                half marathon
             17                   30 km
             18                   marathon

Training frequency for children up to 14 years old should not exceed 3 times per week.  Those aged 15-18 can train up to 5 times per week.

4.  Female Athlete Triad...Participation in some sports predisposes female athletes to developing the female athlete triad.  This consists of three conditions: disordered eating, amenorrhea (absent menstration), and osteoporosis.  This triad of symptoms has been directly associated with intense athletic training. Sports that place athletes at higher risk of developing this condition include those in which: 1. thinness is emphasized, such as gymnastics, figure skating, diving, synchronized swimming and ballet; 2. those in which leanness is believed to improve performance, such as long distance running, swimming and cross country skiing; and 3. those in which weight classification exists, such as wrestling, martial arts and rowing.     Marathon participation clearly is an activity which can lead to the female athlete triad.

5.  During periods of rapid growth, bone growth occurs first with delayed muscle tendon elongation and resultant decreased flexibility leading to an increased incidence of muscle strain and ligament sprain.  

Yes, there is plenty more where this came from, but this is probably enough to swallow for now.  Be sure and let me know if you have specific questions related to your kids or athletes.
A quick side note on my own training.  I took 2 weeks off from running after experiencing continued discomfort in my left leg.  I have begun gradually returning to running with the following workouts so far.

1. 30 minute symptoms
2. 4 minute walk/1 minute jog x 6 (30 minutes total) symptoms
3. 3 minute walk/2 minute jog x 6 (30 minutes total) symptoms
4. 2 minute walk/3 minute jog x 6 (30 minutes total) symptoms, generalized mild soreness not related to symptoms.

Overall I'm feeling good, but not about to begin rushing it.  I'll continue my progression to get back to a continuous 30 minutes of running before resuming a normal training plan.