Recognize the Signs of Over Exercise in Kids and Teens
By Trina Lisko, DO, Virtua Sports Medicine Physician
Exercise helps kids and teens burn off excess energy, promotes overall fitness and encourages healthy habits later in life. While many young people in the United States don’t get enough exercise, some children and teenagers overdo it, which can have serious consequences for their physical and mental health.
How much exercise is too much?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 60 minutes of physical activity every day for children age 6 and older. Just like adults, children need a balance of three different types of exercise to maintain peak health:
- Aerobic activity, such as riding a bicycle, skateboarding or dancing
- Muscle strengthening, such as lifting light weights, doing gymnastics or climbing activities
- Weight-bearing exercise, such as jumping, skipping or running
To figure out the right amount of physical activity for your child, you should consider his or her age, interests and overall fitness level. Also, pay close attention to how your child responds to exercise. There’s nothing wrong with a highly active child exceeding 60 minutes of daily physical activity as long as he or she feels happy and healthy.
However, parents, coaches and doctors should tune in to notice when something is wrong. It’s much easier for older children who participate in multiple sports or intense athletic activities to develop problems related to over exercise. Signs that your child might be trying to hide an overuse injury include guarding a sore body part, reducing effort level or changing moods.
What contributes to too much exercise for kids?
Athletic activities for kids and teens have become increasingly intense and competitive. Many children play multiple sports at one time, which can lead to overscheduling and exhaustion.
Some specialize in one sport beginning at a young age and continue participating in that sport year-round, including travel teams, clinics and camps. Without rest or a change of focus, kids can suffer overuse injuries, physical and emotional stress, and even burnout.
Sometimes, children who participate in more intense athletic programs are expected to perform at an unrealistic level for their age. Highly competitive sports can cause teens to become obsessed with their weight and their athletic performance, which can lead to overtraining.
What are the signs of too much exercise?
It’s important to pay close attention to signs that your child is getting too much exercise. If your child suddenly loses interest in an athletic activity he used to enjoy, he may be suffering from burnout. Other signs of too much exercise include:
- Fatigue or exhaustion (physical and/or emotional)
- Poor immune system
- Inability to recover from workouts
- Overuse injuries, such as stress fractures and tendinitis
Active teen girls also may show signs of a serious condition called the female athlete triad. The female athlete triad is a combination of three interrelated conditions: disordered eating (extreme dieting or avoiding certain foods), menstrual disturbances (irregular or no periods) and decreased bone density (symptoms of osteoporosis).
How can I prevent my child from over exercising?
The best way to prevent over exercising in children is to understand the difference between a healthy amount of exercise and too much exercise.
Children should aim to get a balance of aerobic, muscle-strengthening and weight-bearing exercise. Focusing too heavily on one type of exercise can result in injury. Parents should also encourage free play, such as playing tag or climbing on a playset, because it usually provides a natural balance of each type of exercise.
It’s also important to set limits regarding participation in organized sports and pay close attention to your child’s physical and emotional state throughout the season.
As a rule, experts say that children should play or practice organized sports no more than one hour per week for every year of age. For example, a 7-year-old ice hockey player should be on the ice no more than seven hours per week. Experts also say that children should have at least one “rest” day per week to allow their bodies to recover.
Exercise and participation in athletic activities are an important part of childhood. These activities teach kids how to work together, how to push themselves to achieve goals, and even how to lose with grace. By watching for the warning signs of over exercising, you can ensure that your children maintain optimal physical and emotional health while doing the activities they love.
To schedule a consultation with a Virtua Sports Medicine specialist, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3.
Updated June 4, 2018