Your Child's Heart Health
by Rae Pica
endurance is one of the five health-related components of physical
fitness. It refers to the ability of the heart and lungs to supply
oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. In simple terms, someone with
great cardiovascular endurance has a strong heart - one that actually
grows in size and pumps more blood with every beat, resulting in
a lower heart rate.
you can imagine, this can only happen when an individual regularly
exercises. Typically, it's aerobic exercise that improves cardiovascular
fitness - but, where children are concerned, we can't think of "aerobics"
in the same way that we do for adults.
one thing, children won't exercise for the same reason we adults
do. Most adults exercise for the sake of their health or because
they want to look good. Children should never be encouraged to exercise
because it will make them look good, even if obesity is an issue.
Emphasizing exercise for the sake of appearance places the wrong
value on physical activity - and appearance!
far as health benefits are concerned, unlike adults, young children
live very much in the present moment. They're simply incapable of
projecting themselves into the future. So you can't expect your
toddler, preschooler, or even your first-or second-grader to exercise
because it will ensure he's healthier at age 40 or he'll look and
feel better at 60. Even if you explain that exercise will make him
healthier right now, you're not likely to get an enthusiastic response.
These are all adult concepts - adult goals - beyond a child's cognitive
and emotional capabilities.
young children are not made for long, uninterrupted periods of strenuous
activity. So expecting them to jog, walk briskly, or follow an exercise
video for 20 to 30 minutes, particularly before the age of six,
is not only unrealistic but could be damaging. At the very least,
it can ensure an intense dislike of physical activity that results
in a lifelong devotion to being a couch potato.
when we consider developmentally appropriate aerobic activities
for children, we should be thinking along the lines of moderate
to vigorous play and movement. Physical activity that's moderately
intense will increase the heart rate and breathing somewhat, while
vigorous-intensity movement takes a lot more effort and will result
in a noticeable increase in breathing. The latter can usually be
sustained for a maximum of 20 to 30 minutes.
a bicycle, swimming, walking, marching, chasing bubbles, playing
tag, dancing to moderate- to fast-paced music, and jumping rope
all fall under the heading of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise
for children. In other words, it's anything that keeps the child
moving continuously, sometimes strenuously and sometimes less so.
American Heart Association assures us we needn't be concerned with
target heart rates in children. Yes, we want to get their hearts
pumping on a daily basis; but, whenever possible, we want to ensure
it happens naturally. If you've noticed your child is definitely
not getting enough exercise to improve cardiovascular fitness, joining
in on the play yourself may be all that's needed. Start slowly,
gradually increasing the length of time you maintain movement (by
a few minutes a week) and stopping immediately should your child
experience any discomfort. Before you know it, daily or almost-daily,
moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity will be a way of life.
Pica is a children's movement specialist and author of Your Active
Child: How to Promote Physical, Emotional, and Cognitive Development
through Age-Appropriate Activity (McGraw-Hill, 2003). Rae speaks
to parent and education groups throughout North America. Visit her
and read more articles at www.movingandlearning.com.
information presented on this site is intended solely as a general
educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for
any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional
advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar
with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician
or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical
condition and before starting any new treatment.