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01 Mar 2005

Exercise for a 13 year old
Hi Doc,

Please help me on this one. My neighbours daughter is very keen on exercising and does various sports at school (swimming, diving, cross country, squash). She has recently indicated to me that she would like to start cycling with me and eventually do endurance races with me (60-100km ranges). I am in doubt, because a child her age, muscles and bones are still growing and developing and my question now is, how much should she do? What is the effect of too much sports and exercises on her body?I must admit that she is very good and fit although not at provincial level yet, but firmly believe that ones body can only do so much. I often hear experts advise that children under the age of 15 should not do any weight training as well. Why would that be?

Please give me advice that I can give to her to maintain a healthy balance.


Answer 319 views

01 Jan 0001

Hi Kelly

Really, the best advice for a young person is to just play. This is the age at which physical activity patterns are set for life and so there is lots of evidence that shows that if someone is active as a child, they will continue this into adulthood. What is really important though is that it must be fun. It's also part of normal development to be active, particularly in school sports. So, while I am delighted that she is keen on cycling, I would also encourage her to put some of her energy into being active in school sports with other children.

Assuming she does, then cycling is another really great sport for her to do. I think that the important thing for you to remember is that as a child, she is not in the same position, either from the physical, mental or emotional point of view, to even want to train the same way an adult does. I believe that a 13 year old will perhaps be out to cycle for the space and the freedom it offers, and not to see how fast they can climb up the steepest hill in the neighbourhood. This is important because it means that she does not need to do weight training or excessively long rides. The weight training is an issue because with weight training the load on the bones is great and in young children, the bones have not yet grown fully and so very heavy weights can cause stunted growth. Perhaps very light weights are safe to use, but I would question whether they even cause any performance benefit and would not use them.

All in all, I think that you should encourage her as much as possible, particularly if she shows some talent. But you have to balance it out with other school sports as well. However, what needs to be avoided is structured training - I don't think that interval training, or long rides or weight training needs to be done. I think it will only cause breakdown. I suspect that for now, she will be quite happy to get on a bike and just ride, even if it's only for 30 minutes. This is where to start. Over time, as she gets stronger, she may progress, but she is too young to ride like an 18 year old, and so just keep it realistic and simple as possible.

Good luck
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