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The Truth: Exercise and Height

In the past, and stilled believed by some today, parents often discourage prepubescent youth from engaging in physical activity.  The major thought is that resistance training can stunt their growth through damaging their growth plates.  Fact or Fiction?

Nothing can be any further from the truth than this paradigm.  In fact, years of research have dispelled this myth and suggested that resistance training be conducted at such young ages to enhance total bone formation.

Why was the myth conceived? The myth stems from the idea that putting too much strain on a child’s muscles, tendons, or ligaments may cause damage to ‘growth plates’.  In actuality, stressing these mechanical features with the appropriate amount of resistance can in fact make kids healthier and stronger in their adult lives.

Research

A book, Human Growth and Development by Noel Cameron, displays multiple longitudinal studies showcasing the increase in stature over time of inactive and active males and females during prepubescent years.  There were no significant differences between groups with respect to stature (height) and weight.  Interestingly, they did identify a trend of decreased fat mass in untrained versus trained youth.

One’s maximal height is genetically dictated and cannot be altered.  However, attainment of one’s genetic stature can be reduced if one’s diet lacks the nutrients to support growth and maturation.  By eating a healthy and complete diet throughout one’s growth and maturation phase, attaining ones genetically engrained height is highly likely.  Unfortunately, there are no exercises or  natural ways to grow taller, however there is a surgical procedure to have your femurs elongated – but that will cost you.

Why is regular exercise great to start at a young age?  The main reasons for starting exercise at a young age are to enhance musculoskeletal development, increase cardio-respiratory fitness, decrease risk of injury, and improve body composition.  Of most importance (in my opinion) is the effect resistance training as on bone density.  Bone density peaks at the age of 25 and begins to drop gradually; faster in women.  To maintain bone density, one needs to keep applying stress to joints (IE: resistance training or exercise).  By exercising at a younger age, bone density will reach maximal potential at 25 and the degradation after will be minimal, provided you maintain stressing the body.

Precautions

Children who engage in resistance training should start by learning proper technique and posture.  Furthermore, they should not try anything above their current fitness level and avoid hot and humid environments as children have complications in regulating body temperature.  Ensure that they are properly supervised when engaging in weight lifting.

Some great exercises for children are those that incorporate body weight.  These include (but are not limited to) body squats, push ups, sit ups, and pull ups.  Additionally, games are always great for kids such as tug of war or obstacle courses.

Conclusions

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