Can children go to the gym and from what age? | Wender Mind Kids

Can children go to the gym and from what age?

Experts say if kids are showing interest in hitting the gym to work out, there are things parents should know. (Photo: Getty Creative)

As Elle Woods famously said in Naturally blond, “Exercise gives endorphins – endorphins make you happy.” And scientifically speaking, she was absolutely right. Endorphins are essential to maintaining mental health, which is why exercise — even just a walk around the block — is so often recommended as a balm for anxiety and depression. But when can kids work out in the gym?

Today’s teenagers are experiencing mental health problems at unprecedented rates. The global pandemic has brought with it a variety of triggers for anxiety and depression, including isolation, trauma, and academic and social stress. Adding to the stressors of growing up during a time when mass shootings — particularly in schools, war, political tensions, and other events — make headlines, it’s no wonder we look to literally anything to help our children, in a healthy way deal with it.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC reported that 36% of teens experienced “persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness” in 2019. Since this year the number has only increased and is now bypassing the 50% mark.

Research over the past two decades has found that exercise is key to fighting obesity and mental health problems, no matter your age. “Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, swimming, bicycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression … by improving self-esteem and cognitive function,” reported a 2006 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

School, particularly in elementary and middle school, keeps children active through playground breaks and physical education classes, as well as organized athletics in the senior years. But what happens in the summer when it’s hot outside and the allure of video games, endless snack options, a comfy couch, and air conditioning is intense.

In early May, Planet Fitness introduced the High School Summer Pass, which allows any high school student ages 14-19 to workout for free at any of its more than 2,200 locations across the US and Canada through August 31.

But can younger children also benefit from working out in the gym instead of just playing physical activity?

dr Randon Hall, an orthopedist specializing in sports medicine, concussion and fracture management at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, says while children’s skeletal systems are still developing, all types of exercise — including “formal” strength training — have excellent mental and physical benefits also for health physical health.

“Resistance training has the primary goal of gaining strength, but it also helps develop motor skills, speed and strength, and develop functional movements that are appropriate for all sports,” he says. “It may also help reduce the risk of injury,” which is a major concern for children participating in organized sports or working out at the gym. dr Hall also says he likes to use strength training as an alternative to running or team sports, which may not be as appealing to some kids, especially during the hot summer months.

Claudia Moya says her daughter Sophia likes to go to the gym when it's hot outside to go for a walk.  (Photo: Claudia Moya)

Claudia Moya says her daughter Sophia likes to go to the gym when it’s hot outside to go for a walk. (Photo: Claudia Moya)

Claudia Moya, mother of Sophia, 8, says she and her daughter “used to go for walks in the neighborhood, but by the time summer hit, the heat was the main reason Sophia wanted to hit the gym instead.”

“It’s nice to spend some time with her,” she adds, “and we usually go out for breakfast afterwards, which is a wonderful time together.”

dr Hall cautions, however, that fitness equipment is designed for adult bodies, so proper supervision and safe use is key to keeping children safe. Instead of weight-lifting machines, he suggests bodyweight exercises, resistance bands, free weights, and medicine balls as entry points for kids to start a fitness program.

Tim Liu, a physical therapist at Stanford Children’s Health in Palo Alto, California, says the “right age” for a child or a teenager to start going to the gym is different. “If the child shows genuine interest in going to the gym and building strength, there’s nothing in the research to tell us it’s not good for a younger person [work out] at the gym,” he says.

In addition to the benefits that Dr. Hall, Liu says children can benefit from resistance training through improved metabolic health, increased cardiovascular fitness, improved bone density (which is especially beneficial for young women), and reduced risk of chronic disease.

Boutique gyms, including yoga studios, are relaxing restrictions on children attending classes as the benefits of yoga, stretching, mindfulness and meditation are well documented, even for children as young as 3 or 4 years old.

Katie Donzanti's 5-year-old daughter joins her in yoga classes at her yoga studio in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo: Katie Donzanti)

Katie Donzanti’s 5-year-old daughter joins her in yoga classes at her yoga studio in Orlando, Florida. (Photo: Katie Donzanti)

Katie Donzanti, who owns and runs The Peaceful Peacock yoga studio in Orlando, Florida, encourages her 5-year-old to attend yoga and meditation sessions with her whenever possible. In her studio, she allows children as young as 8 to attend classes provided they can “comfortably sit still and remain quiet throughout the class for the most part,” she says. “I always tell parents that they are the best judges of when their child is ready to participate.”

If you’re not sure your child is ready, it can also help to find a gym or studio that offers family-friendly exercise classes that are more casual and safe to fidget, move, or ask questions during class .

“I think it’s really important to introduce kids to self-care, exercise, and proper fitness etiquette while also modeling mindfulness in a gym or wellness space like a yoga studio,” says Donzanti. “I personally bring my 5 year old to my gym and she has a prescribed set of activities that she is allowed to do and enjoy doing in order to be a contributing member of this gym community.”

Regardless of age, everyone agrees that it’s important to keep kids active – no matter how – especially during the summer months when children are out of school and exposed to less organized physical education and athletics classes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends three full hours of physical activity per day for children ages 3 to 5 and 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week by age 6 and older. But as with most activities, keeping kids interested means making sure they’re having fun.

Liu says: “We want [kids] being active and engaging in a variety of activities. With younger children, we’re likely to see better engagement and participation when these activities take place in environments where the emphasis is on having fun and they just enjoy the activity.”

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