Encouraging our children to be physically active is an important part of teaching them to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but as youth sports have become more competitive and year-round sports participation has been encouraged, the rate of injury to young athletes has grown significantly. Here are a few ways to help keep your young athletes healthy:
Get a check-up. Each year every child should have a well-child check up with his/her physician. At this visit, the physician will review your child’s growth and development and perform a detailed physical exam. Please make sure to discuss any previous injuries, concussions, and patient or family history of respiratory or cardiac concerns at this visit. This will help you and your physician determine which sports may be the best fit for your child.
Gradually build up stamina and strength. The ability to fully participate in vigorous physical activity does not develop spontaneously. Failure to condition prior to sports participation is one of the biggest contributors to risk of injury in young athletes. Maintaining cardiovascular endurance during the off season by continuing to walk or jog several days of the week will make the transition into a sport easier. Also, if your child is considering starting a new sport, encourage them to start training several weeks before the season begins. Contact the coach and ask for tips to help your child prepare. Remember to start gradually and build up slowly over time. Do not increase the duration or intensity of activity by more than 10% each week.
Warming up, stretching, and cooling down are just as important as the actual participation. Warming up allows muscles to become more limber and increases blood flow to important muscle groups. Active stretching, meaning stretching through a range of motion, will improve flexibility and limit muscle sprains/stains. Cooling down allows the muscles to begin to recover and to heal.
Stay hydrated and eat healthy foods. Processed foods, preservatives, and concentrated sugars have a negative effect on metabolism and athletic performance. Avoid artificial sweeteners and artificial ingredients. Healthy fruits and vegetables, healthy oils like coconut oil, and protein such as those from nuts or lean meats are necessary fuels for all athletes. Young athletes should drink mostly water during physical activity. For activities that last longer than 1 hour and are high intensity or occur during hot weather, I recommend 4 ounces of a sports drink per hour in addition to water.
Take any injury seriously. If something hurts, ask your child to stop immediately and rest. If the pain subsides, then allow him/her to restart exercise gradually. If pain recurs, do not allow your child to exercise for 48-72 hours. If pain persists after this period of rest, seek care for your child. Of course, if pain is severe or other worrisome signs occur, like swelling or bruising, then seek care right away.
REST! Maintaining glycogen stores and allowing muscles to heal and recover is critical to continued athletic improvement and performance. Children should have at least 2 days a week without structured physical activity. After completing a competitive season of sports, young athletes should be allowed 2-3 months to rest before beginning a new sport or season.
Teaching your children the value of physical activity as part of a healthy, active lifestyle is very important. Hopefully, with these tips, you can keep your athlete healthy this season and for many more to come.