As mentioned in Part 1, of the four types of fitness or strength, cardiovascular fitness is the most important in determining overall health. When you combine that fact with the downward trend in cardiovascular fitness among the world’s children — and American children, in particular — you can understand the reason for concern. Referred to as the “degeneration generation,” today’s children aren’t without hope: as their cardiovascular habits improve, so will their fitness level. As you seek to implement a fitness routine for your child, you will want to consider a few important points.
Children Have Unique Needs
If you’re a parent, you know that to be true in multiple arenas, but here we’re talking specifically about how it relates to cardiovascular exercise. Keep in mind that children tend to grow in spurts and, as a result, they will lack coordination during times of acclimation after a significant growth spurt. That lack of coordination can easily translate into injury. Their core muscles — in the abdomen, back, and hips — are still underdeveloped; this lack of core strength can make them especially susceptible to injury.
Diet Impacts Cardiovascular Health
A fitness plan for anyone should include a healthy diet, but for children this is especially important. Nutritious foods help provide long-lasting energy. Stamina-increasing foods include foods that are rich in iron, complex carbohydrates, and fruits such as bananas and red grapes. A healthy mixture of the five main food groups is important, too: children need a combination of lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Anything else — such as processed snack foods or sugary desserts — should be offered only occasionally. Parents can help by making healthy foods easily accessible and keeping little, if any, “junk food” around the house.
Daily Routines Encourage an Active Lifestyle
Habits learned and repeated throughout childhood have a sneaky way of showing up in adulthood, too. Daily activity is important, but it doesn’t have to be the same activity every day. Consider mixing it up, including a variety of low-intensity aerobic exercises, such as cycling, jogging, swimming, walking, and low-intensity dancing. Less intense activities, such as walking, can be alternated with more intense ones like swimming; consider walking for an entire hour or swimming for a half hour.
Some Kids Find Motivation in Athletic Competition
Competition and camaraderie are two of the many benefits offered by competitive sports; for some kids, those things offer the motivation necessary to promote physical fitness. Sports such as basketball or soccer or activities such as gymnastics, swimming, or cheering can certainly teach kids skills; but even more importantly, they promote cardiovascular endurance.
When kids associate healthy activities such as aerobic exercise with exciting experiences, they’ll be more likely to continue implementing healthy habits throughout their lives.
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