There’s a whole bunch of overweight teens in our midst. You see them dawdling everywhere, with a fizzy drink in hand and eyes glued to their devices. This comes as no surprise as we have earned the status of fattest nation in Southeast Asia, without having to slog much.
A recent study in The Lancet medical journal revealed that worldwide, the rate of increase in obesity far outstrips the decline in under-nutrition. The researchers say if this trend continues, child and adolescent obesity is expected to surpass moderate and severe underweight by 2022.
How can we help whittle these young waists? Exercise is often recommended over dietary changes, but few studies have been carried out on which forms of workouts are most effective for teenagers of this generation.
In 2014, investigators from the University of Calgary in Canada examined 304 teen subjects between the ages of 14 and 18, each of whom had previously refrained from undertaking any regular form of exercise. Subjects were separated into four groups.
One group practised resistance training, such as weight lifting, while the second undertook purely aerobic exercise, such as walking on a treadmill. The third group utilised both forms of exercise, and the fourth group did neither, acting as a control for the experiment.
Results revealed that teens who undertook both forms of exercise lost more weight than teens from the other three groups.
Cardio activities such as jogging or cycling, can be difficult for those with excess weight and may damage or strain young joints. And not many youngsters would choose to brisk-walk for exercise. So, resistance or strength training can be an attractive option.
Muscles also build faster when weight is lost, giving heavier teens a chance to see their bodies respond positively to their efforts.
Strength training uses resistance to increase an individual’s ability to exert force. This is not the same as Olympic lifting, power lifting or body building, which requires the use of ballistic movements and maximum lifts, and is not recommended for teenagers.
But the concern is, how old does one need to be before the body is ready for weight machines, free weights, bands or the individual’s own body weight?
According to the American Academy Of Pediatrics (AAP), strength training is safe for children from seven or eight, because that is the age when a child’s balance and posture control matures.
Pretty young, you’d think, but AAP says there’s no harm, provided certain rules are followed, and the teens are closely supervised by a qualified trainer.
While it was widely believed that weight lifting stunts the growth of children and adolescents, no studies have proven that this is true. It is an outdated and misleading myth. Both my brothers are testament to this. They started lifting weights at 13 or 14, and still grew to be six-footers. How tall a child grows is highly dependent on his genes and nutritional intake.
Before a teen embarks on a weight training programme, they she should first get evaluated by a doctor. Because the skeleton isn’t mature until the early 20s, too much weight can stress the joints and ligaments, and may separate growth plates or damage joints in other ways.
A good teen weight training programme focuses on toning muscles with lighter weights and a high number of repetitions. Bulking up is only appropriate for young adults who have passed the phase of puberty.
Children don’t usually build muscles until they hit puberty and hormones start kicking in. It is the hormones that make it possible to increase muscle mass.
Start them slowly and limit their training to two or three times a week. More importantly, make sure they get adequate rest, preferably at least a day, before the next session. Here are the AAP’s tips for any kind of strength training:
• Take it easy. At first, there should be ‘no load’, or no resistance, while learning the exercise. Add weight in increments of 10% only after eight to 15 repetitions can be done.
• Focus on technique. It’s better to do the exercise correctly than to do more repetitions or to take on more resistance.
• Ensure proper supervision and safety. The AAP says instructors or personal trainers should be certified and should have specific qualifications in paediatric strength training.
• Don’t lift weights rapidly or do “explosive” lifting. The AAP discourages power lifting and body building until one reaches physical and skeletal maturity.
• Strengthen all major muscle groups, including the core muscles.
• Warm up and cool down. Devote 10-15 minutes to your warm-up and another 10-15 minutes to cool down after strength training.
• Remember, strength training is just one part of fitness. Don’t overlook the aerobic conditioning component.
Also, be sure to stay properly hydrated and eat a nutritious diet to help muscles recover.
Eventually, your teenager will shed the pounds and notice a difference in muscle strength and endurance. Hopefully, this will spur them to make fitness a lifelong habit.