by Ken Endelman
The health of today’s children is compromised by a culture of convenience and increasingly sedentary activity. Eating fast food, watching TV and playing video games has become habitual while a nutritious diet and physical activity is on the downslide.
A recent report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that approximately 30.3% of children between the ages of 6 to 11 are overweight and that 15.3% are obese. For adolescents between the ages of 12 to 19, 30.4% are overweight and 15.5% are obese. These are startling numbers and much higher than for previous years.
Concerned parents are now looking at exercise programs for their children in an effort to keep them fit and set them up for a lifetime of good health.
A rigorous exercise regimen, however, may not be beneficial for young children and could even be harmful. The concern stems from the fact that a young child’s developing skeletal frame cannot handle the demanding forms of exercise in more aerobic-oriented or cardiovascular programs. For these children, a safer, healthier, low-impact workout is needed such as Pilates.
While the popularity of Pilates among adults is well chronicled, the exercise program also offers a large range of benefits to children. Improved posture and spinal alignment are realized as exercises increase the strength and flexibility of the abdominal and inner muscles of the body (the core or trunk). It promotes toned, sleek bodies and improves athletic performance. Through Pilates, children can gain awareness of their body, and learn how to move efficiently and gracefully. As children grow, their bodies are in a constant state of change and development.
Correctly or incorrectly it is here where they will formulate the physical attributes that they will take through life. Posture, the way they walk, the way they bend over, etc. Pilates can help establish correct principles of movement that children will use for their entire lives. It will also create a balanced musculature that can alleviate pain and reduce the potential for injury now and as they continue to grow into adulthood.
Beyond physical fitness, having a strong core can open up other benefits for children-including improved learning. Advocates believe that when trunk, or torso, stability is absent, sitting and standing for extended periods in school can be difficult. If children are expending their energy throughout the day just to maintain stability, their stamina for homework and other after school activities may be depleted. A strong trunk or core conserves their energy and allows them to be more attentive to schoolwork.
Because Pilates is a mind and body discipline, it can guide kids to a stronger body, and a more relaxed state of mind. Working to strengthen their bodies can increase children’s selfesteem, stamina, abdominal strength and sleep. That, combined with the focused breathing techniques essential to the exercises, can help kids attain a much more serene and less stressful outlook.
Now many clubs and studios are offering classes aimed specifically at children. Generally, Pilates is suitable for children eight years and up under adult supervision. If you’re thinking about enrolling your child in a class, here are a couple of things to think about:
1. Make sure the instructor not only has Pilates experience, but is experienced working with children.
2. Most classes are mat-based, often including stability balls, which are easy for children to use. However, some classes are offered on reformers-moving carriages inside a wooden or metal frame, connected to a network of pulleys, ropes and springs. While effective and fun, equipment-based exercise programs are aimed at adults, so ask the instructor how they’re modifying the movements on the Reformer for children.
Ken Endelman is Founder and CEO of Balanced Body Inc. Ken began his career as a designer and craftsman of fine custom furniture – a background apparent in every piece of hand-finished equipment the company makes. Since the early 1970s, Ken Endelman has updated Joseph Pilates’ equipment with state-of-the-art engineering, materials and technology, many of which have become industry standards. The company has been awarded twenty-four U.S. patents, with more pending. Balanced Body Inc. continues to actively promote Pilates to the fitness industry, the medical profession and the media.
As originally seen in a 2006 issue of Beyond Fitness Magazine.