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09 Mar 2004

Fitness/firming exercises for an 8-year old
Diet Doc sent me to this forum! My 8-year old son has developed a fat tummy and is overweight. He plays a range of tradional sport - judo, swimming and cricket, but appears not to be getting enough of a real workout. He is badly flat-footed, and wears custom-made inserts into his shoes to help straigten his legs. He'd love to be a couch potato if I let him. We don't have a swimming pool at home, but do have a full-size trampoline. Please can you give me advise on an exercise routine that can get him more firmed up?
Answer 329 views

01 Jan 0001

HI Squirrel

It's really hard to find the balance in a situation like this one - by this, I mean that you are obviously correct in looking for a way to get him more active to get healthier, but there's a fine line before you start forcing the issue and creating a regimented training programme, and quite frankly, that can only do more damage than good in an 8 year old. So, it's a great idea to look for ways of preventing him becoming a couch potato, but I'm not sure that a predefined exercise routine is the way to do it. You said that he is involved in a number of sports - the important thing is how often per week and for how long each day. If he is for example playing one hour of sport per day (on average), then it's inevitable that the remaining say 5 or 6 hours of his afternoon will be spent being inactive, watching TV etc. I think that the main thing for an 8 year old is to play sports for fun, and in so doing, to develop a healthy lifestyle. Now, this is easier said than done, and I imagine that you have encouraged him to get involved, and perhaps it has worked, and that's why he is as active as he is. However, a small change like just exercising one more day a week might do wonders, even if it involves playing basketball in the drive way, or something apparently menial. I think that the best thing you can do is to encourage him and motivate him to get out of the house, to play in the garden, even to walk - I know the problem here is that it's not safe, but if you or an older brother or something could set an example - perhaps go for a 30 minute brisk walk twice a week, and encourage him to join you on those walks. That goes a long way to instilling a culture of exercise while he is still young.

As far a firming programme goes, this would involve things like doing situps, pushups etc - you don't want to do this too strenuously when you are only 8 years old, or get too seriously into the whole weight training thing, it does more harm than good, as I explained earlier. I just don't feel that at the age of 8, a regimented programme or session of exercises is much fun, and fun should be the name of the game.

Having said all this about the exercise, I think it is also very important to realise that exercise is one of two factors that must change - the other is diet. In my experience, children who become overweight do so because they eat too much relative to their daily exercise routine. Many children are in fact quite active - they run around at school, play sports, just generally do things a lot more vigorously than adults, and so often the problem is more the diet than the exercise. Now, I'm not sure whether you specifically asked Diet Doc about this, but I would certainly look into what he is eating. Call it the Fast Food culture, perhaps, but children often eat pretty badly, and there may be substantial changes that can be made here.

Good luck, and don't lose motivation if your son seems more interested in Playstation or TV than exercise - it just takes time, and regular setting an example, and he will hopefully grow into an exercise culture.

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