Exercise for Children Aged 7-11 Years

At this stage, most children are ready for some more formal sports or games. Team sports, gymnastics and swimming are usually taught at school. In addition, some children may be motivated by seeing sport performed locally or by seeing their favourite sports star on television. Sometimes involvement in sport may start because of a medical problem, such as asthma, for which exercise is a prescribed part of treatment.

Exercise and development

For all-round development, a variety of activities is recommended. Parents should be aware that different sports and exercises develop different skills and different parts of the body; for example, gymnastics and ballet encourage balance and poise and build up the leg muscles. Natural enthusiasm for a particular sport is acceptable as long as it is not obsessive. If a child pursues a single activity excessively, she may develop a repetitive-stress injury, such as an ankle injury in running, or injuries specific to tennis or football, where repeated rotational movements can cause spinal distortion.

A combination of physical exercises that take into account the age and physical needs of the child can help to protect her body against sports injury by building aerobic fitness, muscular strength and flexibility. A good exercise programme should aim to balance and condition the body, stabilize and protect joints and improve posture. Schools include training programmes in the curriculum and local sports centres run clubs and training programmes for children.

Suitable activities

Children in this age group enjoy playground apparatus such as swings, slides and roundabouts, and improvised activities such as swinging on ropes, and doing forward rolls, handstands and cartwheels. This type of activity can be formalized in a class where instructors create gymnastic ‘landscapes’ with various apparatus, including beams, benches, trampolines, mats, ropes and bars. The children are not instructed in classical gymnastics, but rather encouraged to test their own dexterity and strength freely and in a playful manner.

Also popular at this age are informal games such as skipping, tag and hopscotch.

Activities that facilitate feelings of freedom, flying and weightlessness, such as trampolining, swimming and jumping, are particularly appealing. Children may also enjoy mountain biking and sociable-exercise, such as country walking.

The American College of Sports Medicine emphasizes that children should not lift heavy weights. This is because their growing bones are relatively soft and can be bent or twisted out of alignment by overdeveloping particular muscles. Heavy resistance training should not begin until the age of 18.

Encouraging activity

Some children need extra encouragement to be active, especially if they are overweight or if they do not feel talented physically. Finding the right activity is often the key: children who avoid competitive and team games because they feel they are not good at sport may enjoy swimming, cycling, horse-riding or other non-competitive activities.

If a child shows unusual ability in a particular sport, parents need to be wary of over-encouragement. Encouraging early specialization or intensive training may put a child under inordinate pressure to succeed. Although the specific skills of any sport are best learned at a young age, success at junior level does not necessarily lead to success later on. Enjoyment rather than excellence may be preferable in childhood.