Children and youth respond to exercise and physical activity in much the same way that adults do. It has the same primary preventative benefits with respect to diseases, such as coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes and obesity.


During childhood, there is very little difference in the cardiovascular capabilities in males and females. After puberty, however, males VO2 max values are approximately 20% higher than females in late puberty. Significant improvements in the measures of cardiovascular endurance exist for both females and males throughout the maturation process. Maximum heart rates in both female and males do not change a great deal throughout childhood while resting heart rates decrease.


Muscle strength and endurance increases during childhood primarily as a result in increased muscle mass. Significant disparities in muscular strength between males and females occur in the adolescent years, particularly in upper body.


Structured exercise programs can be appropriate for children who are seeking to improve their fitness, who do not participate in sports or who are interested in activities, which they have seen their parents partake in. While we have traditionally promoted aerobic activities and sports for our youth, there is also evidence to support that strength training can be appropriate as well. Principles such as exercise overload, progression and recovery need to be considered as well as having adequate supervision while children are following structured exercise programs.


Strength can be improved by resistance training in both sexes prior to the onset of puberty. Some concerns have been proposed in regard to resistance based training in children. The potential impacts on a child’s growth or the risk of fracture in the growth plates are two examples. The American College of Sports Medicine has reported that these concerns are no greater in strength training than in sports or activities that children regularly participate. Strength training can offer an alternative for children who may dislike other modes of exercise or sports.


Research has shown that in general, physical activity and fitness positively affect self-concept, self-efficacy and self- esteem. It also has a positive effect on depression symptoms and a reduction in stress in children. When promoting exercise or activity in youth, it is important to realize that each individual constantly changes as he or she grows and that each one does at a different rate. This means that each child does require special consideration.


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