July 27, 2021

Clinical contributors to this story

Michelle Sirak, MD contributes to topics like Child physiology.

Physical activity is important for all children, and helping your child find the right activity for their physical needs, personality, and preferences from a young age is key to making exercise a fun, lifelong habit .

Michelle Sirak, MD, director of children’s physiotherapy at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center, often helps children with physical impairments such as back and neck pain, sports injuries, neuromuscular diseases, and more achieve their maximum mobility. Dr. Sirak gives their expert advice on finding the right physical activities for your children.

“In my practice, I see children who are very active, children who do not think they are active, and children with physical or cognitive problems that affect their ability to participate in certain activities,” says Dr. Sirak. “But no matter what group a child falls into, it is important to find the right activity so that they can safely reap the physical and psychological benefits of moving their body.”

Tips for active children

Some children love competitions, play in teams and take part in several sporting activities. For children who like to be physically active and play sports, the challenge, according to Dr. Sirak is often into avoiding overuse injuries and making sure there is an “off-season”.

“Playing different sports at different times of the year can help prevent overuse injuries while keeping a child active, engaged, and in shape,” says Dr. Sirak. “In fact, many top athletes are good at several sports and do not specialize in one sport until they are old.”

Since many youth sports are now practiced year-round, according to Dr. Sirak is important that athletes and their parents recognize when a certain sport becomes too much.

“If a child suffers frequent or recurring injuries, or if the level of competition is too high and there is no off-season, it may be appropriate to try another activity – even temporarily,” says Dr. Sirak. “There are many ways to get active and I work with children and parents to find out what is best for them.”

Make “non-athletes” active

Dr. Sirak says that some of the children she sees in her practice don’t consider themselves athletes at all. Team sports and competition may not appeal to them, but it is just as important to stay active, move around and be healthy.

These children may tire more quickly, have less coordination, and have difficulty keeping up with their peers, which can make them embarrassed or embarrassed about a team sport. Some of these children have problems such as poor posture, back pain, and low muscle tone that make physical activity difficult.

But dr. Sirak says just because a child doesn’t like playing on a team or has non-athletic interests doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy physical activity.

“For children who have not enjoyed team sports or who have never tried it before, I recommend trying a more one-on-one sport such as gymnastics, martial arts, swimming, dancing or tennis – sports that allow the child to compete against yourself, and who may be less intimidating to try, ”says Dr. Sirak.

“A lot of kids love the American Ninja Warrior TV show, so I tell them to join a ninja warrior gym. For older children who are not exercising or having difficulty starting an exercise program, working with a personal trainer for a few sessions at the gym can sometimes reduce their fear of entering the gym. I also frequently encourage taking Pilates or yoga classes, which you can find online from the comfort of your home, to help a child get active. “

Advice for children with special needs

Although children with physical or cognitive problems may not be able to safely participate in some activities, it is important to find creative ways to encourage other types of physical activity.

Dr. Sirak says that some children can benefit from physical or occupational therapy, but it is important to think about what activities the child could enjoy so that they can remain active after therapy “completes”. For added benefit, Dr. Sirak to look for activities that provide an opportunity to exercise while improving skills such as coordination, balance, attention, and age-appropriate peer interaction and socialization.

“The most important thing is to find something a child can do that is fun and can become a part of their day – be it martial arts, golf, sled hockey, horse riding, or something else,” says Dr. Sirak. “You can always find an activity; you just have to get creative. “

But no matter what group a child falls into, the most important thing is to find an activity that arouses interest.

“To prepare a child for a healthy life, you have to meet them where they are and find an activity that suits them,” says Dr. Sirak.

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The material provided by HealthU is for general information only and should not be used as a substitute for advice from your doctor. Always consult your doctor for individual care.