How physically fit is your child? Before you can answer that question, we need to define our terms. “Fitness” can refer to overall health, but more frequently, the term is used to describe a specific arena of physical agility. We’ll look at four arenas of physical fitness: muscular, flexibility-oriented, skill-related, and cardiovascular fitness.
Muscular fitness can be divided into two separate areas: muscular strength and muscular endurance. The first category encompasses what’s normally associated with weight lifting; it relates to how much weight a person’s muscles can support, push, or pull. Strength training affects more than just the muscles, though; it also benefits the bones. Muscular endurance relates to the amount of time a person’s muscles can support weight or withstand pushing or pulling. Both muscular strength and muscular endurance are factors in a person’s overall fitness level.
A person’s flexibility refers to his or her body’s range of motion and is a major factor when it comes to preventing injuries. The goal of flexibility training is to increase the range of motion without causing pain or stiffness.
This form of “fitness” has to do with what’s sometimes called athletic ability or prowess and relates to a particular sport. Skills without other areas of fitness won’t be worth much; however, the other areas of fitness are important for overall health, with or without specific skills.
Cardiovascular fitness refers to a person’s heart health and particularly to its ability to handle activity. Cardiovascular fitness relates to the ability to run around a track multiple times or otherwise exercise vigorously over an extended time period. As you might have already guessed, this arena of fitness is arguably the most significant one in determining overall health. One of the reasons for its significance is, of course, heart health. Another is related to its correlation to body composition: the body’s percentage of fat to non-fat tissue.
Sadly, today’s kids are lagging behind past generations when it comes to physical fitness — and particularly when it comes to cardiovascular endurance. According to the American Heart Association, children across the globe have experienced a 5% decline in cardiovascular health each decade from 1970 to 2000; American kids have experienced a 6% decline each decade over the same period. That translates into today’s kids sporting 15-18% less cardiovascular fitness than their parents did at their ages, meaning that they take about 90 seconds longer to run a mile than their moms and dads would have taken at the same age.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to help your child improve his or her level of cardiovascular fitness. To find out how, check out Part 2.
Image credits: Top © Nagy-Bagoly Ilona/Ilike/Fotolia; 2nd © William Perugini/william87/Fotolia; 3rd © Mat Hayward/Fotolia; 4th © pololia/Fotolia.