Stretching and Exercise for Kids: What Works Best?

In part three of our four-part series for Childhood Obesity Awareness month, Brian Scully, a pediatric physical therapist, and Lauren Scott, a pediatric clinical dietitian, both with Texas Children’s Hospital, help answer some of the most common questions they’ve received about exercising.

A child stretchingIs stretching really important?

Yes! Stretching is a fantastic tool to help with the growth and development phase that all young people go through. When the growth plates are wide open the bones grow longer and at a faster pace than the corresponding muscles, therefore the muscles need the added stretching to help them keep up with the bone development. The growth of bones and muscles go hand-in-hand. If muscle growth is ignored, there is an increased chance of injury. Stretching also helps improve flexibility, relaxes and lengthens the muscles and can help in sports coordination as well. One important note is that stretching is most advantageous after a light warm up. You should never stretch “cold” muscles as it increases the risk for injury.

Stretches should be held for 10 to 30 seconds. Remember to breathe, and do not bounce with the stretch. We also suggest that you stretch opposite muscles equally to promote improved strength overall. For instance, in addition to stretching the right and left quadriceps (the front thigh muscle) you should also stretch the right and left hamstrings. The sooner that a stretch program can be started the better the outcome.

Young girl stretching for soccer practiceWhat are some of the best exercises for children and adolescents?

Any type of physical activity is great. The more time children can spend exercising, playing outside or participating in sports, the more their activities will help to promote a healthier lifestyle. That being said, there are a number of activities children and young adults can engage in that can help in other areas as well. For instance, taking a walk outside can provide an opportunity for the family to do something together and allows everyone to take advantage of an important source of vitamin D, the sun.  Another great example is playing ball (any type). This not only gets kids moving but can help improve their coordination and motor skills as well.

Texas Children's Pediatrics logoThe YMCA has many options for families to get fit together.  Find your neighborhood YMCA here or click this link to search for family and youth exercise classes.  The YMCA also offers youth wellness programs.

In next week’s final installment of our four-part series on Childhood Obesity Awareness month, hear from Texas Children’s Roberta Anding, Director of Sports Nutrition, on simple nutrition tips for parents.  Learn more about Texas Children’s Pediatrics by visiting their website.

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