LAST year, an international scale of children’s physical activity gave us a D minus. Children should get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day, yet only 12 to 43% of children here get this.
It’s a sobering mark because Irish children are in the middle of an obesity crisis, with one in four overweight or obese. If this trend continues, 70% face adult obesity.
A huge amount of children are just not getting the myriad benefits of exercise, “Exercise helps with agility, balance, self-esteem, mood and energy levels and so much more,” says chartered physiotherapist and exercise therapist Avril Copeland.
So you don’t want to stifle the exercise impulse by dwelling on risk in sport. In fact, both Síolta (National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education) and Aistear (Early Childhood Curriculum Framework) acknowledge that children need challenge.
They need to learn to cope with the risks posed by everyday life; how to take calculated risks and even how to experience the consequences of not being careful.
In a sports context this means they will be at risk of injuries. A recent study of just over 300 rugby players aged 12 to 18 here found one in five had suffered concussion — and a quarter of these had returned to play without medical advice.
However, the most typical injuries across all sports are random bumps, bruises and cuts. Also common are the more serious sprains (injury to ligaments) and strains (injury to muscles and tendons).
“Children can quickly get injured when they’re running and have to change direction really quickly — they can turn an ankle. Young children are also more likely to get growth plate fractures — at the end of their long bones, growing children have this softer developing bone,” explains Copeland.
Repetitive motion injuries are also common in children — tendonitis (inflamed tendons) happens when muscles and tendons are over-used. Similarly, stress fractures occur when the bone has endured repeated stress. Children can also get dehydrated while playing, so encourage them to drink water frequently.
“It’s important to get children into organised sport — into clubs or [sport] at school, where properly qualified coaches supervise them. Children need to be taught the rules and etiquette of sport. And they need to have the right protective gear — perhaps shin guards or a custom-made gum shield that is fitted to the child’s mouth, depending on the sport,” says Copeland.
Research safety guidelines for your child’s sport and make him/her aware of these safety suggestions too, she says.