When it comes to physical fitness, do you ever wonder exactly what it entails? Or to pose the question differently, what constitutes a healthy lifestyle or suitable fitness goals for children? Especially where kids are concerned, the obesity epidemic may be a significant symptom, but it’s also only a symptom of a more pervasive problem. While it’s great to be committed to encouraging physical fitness in the children who are part of your gymnastics family, we really need to know what aspects of fitness are most significant as well as what the common deficiencies are among today’s kids — and how to compensate for them.
Physical Fitness, Defined
Six distinct categories of physical fitness can be addressed. First, fitness includes flexibility or comfortable range of motion. (Gymnastics certainly addresses this area of fitness!) Second, fitness includes strength, or the amount of weight which muscles and bones can support, push, or pull. Third, fitness includes muscular endurance, or the amount of time muscles can perform the above-mentioned activities. (Short of weight lifting, there are many ways to improve both those areas of fitness.) Fourth, fitness includes body composition, or the percentage of fat compared to non-fat in the body. Fifth, cardiovascular endurance refers to the heart’s ability to be active for an extended period. Sixth, fitness includes skill — something that is usually tied to a specific sport.
All too often, children are encouraged to pursue the final arena of physical fitness, which has marginal benefits — especially if the other aspects aren’t considered and pursued. When we consider overall health and well being, one type of physical fitness outpaces the others in its significance. According to the lead author of a landmark study by the American Heart Association, “The most important type of fitness for good health is cardiovascular fitness, which is the ability to exercise vigorously for a long time.”
Alarmingly Low Levels of Cardiovascular Endurance
When it comes to physical fitness, the significance of cardiovascular endurance cannot be overstated. And yet, it’s vastly under-emphasized. According to the American Heart Association, the endurance levels of American children have fallen, on average, 6% per decade, since 1970. (For all children, across the globe, the average decrease is still significant, but 1% less so than in the U.S.)
Another comparative statistic is that today’s kids are approximately only 85% as fit (from a cardio standpoint) as their parents were at their ages. In addition, the average time for running a mile has increased by a minute and a half in the same 30-year period. For these reasons, today’s children have been referred to as the “degenerating generation.”
Now that you know the bad news about the cardiovascular endurance levels of today’s kids, it’s time for a little good news: the problem is not irreversible. In fact, there’s something you can do, and it’s relatively painless. In Part 2, we’ll look at the recommended ways that children can improve their cardiovascular habits, thereby improving their levels of endurance.