How much is too much exercise for a child?

By now, we all know that a healthy life means healthy choices, like eating well and regular exercise. That applies to kids, too. As parents we want to introduce our kids to a healthy lifestyle early on — one that includes being active. But is there such a thing as too much exercise for a child? Can your child take fitness too far? Yup.

Boy with soccer injury

As much as you enjoy exercise and as much as your child may enjoy a specific exercise, participating in that activity to the exclusion of all others puts your child at risk for overtraining. Even if your child is a “natural” runner, for example, putting some limits on that exercise and keeping fitness in balance can have benefits for your child and that sport in the short and long term.

Early fitness

When kids are young, fitness should be a fun, enjoyable part of life. Whether it’s just running around the yard playing tag with the neighbors, going for a leisurely bike ride with mom and day or playing soccer in the mighty-mites league on the weekends, early fitness should be just plain enjoyable.

As kids move towards adolescence, some do display an affinity for certain sports and begin to focus in those areas. If they truly love it, that’s great! Make sure it’s coming from them, however, and not from parental pressure (and a parent’s dreams) and keep an eye on that training.

Growing bodies

Your child’s body is still growing. Joints are not as solid as they will become, bones are “hollow,” growth plates are still active and muscles are still being trained in basic motor coordination. Overtraining can cause damage to a still growing body — damage that might not be evident until years later!

Professional input

The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the increasing issue of overtraining in adolescent athletes and more and more physicians are on the lookout for it. Before it gets that far, however, you can get professional input to help prevent overtraining.

If your child is committed to a specific sport or activity, consult with medical and fitness professionals to develop an appropriate training plan for their age and skill level. There are now sports medicine doctors who specialize in pediatric cases who can help you look for specific physical indications of overtraining — and treat it appropriately if it does happen.

Your child’s pediatrician can point you to such specialists in your area, and this specialist likely knows the best trainers and coaches in your area as well. They can all work together to help give your child the sports experience he or she desires, without doing bodily damage in the process.

Signs of overtraining

If you suspect that your child is over-exercising, consider these symptoms:

  • Irritability, especially after activity that previously elevated mood
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep changes
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Depression
  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Weight changes
  • Loss of overall motivation

If your child exhibits symptoms of overtraining, insist that they take a break from this exclusive exercise and consult medical and sports professionals.

You want your child to be fit for life, not burned out and hobbling at 20. Find some balance in the family’s and your child’s fitness approach, and make sure your child is exercising appropriately. That is, staying active, but not over exercising.

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