January 27, 2017

Are Your Children Fit For Life?

Paul Smolen MD FAAP

Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte NC

Creator of the blog, Portable Practical PediatricsAuthor of Can Doesn't Mean Should-Essential Knowledge for 21st Century Parents
Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics, University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Post originally published in slightly different form at www.docsmo.com September 12, 2016

So here is something you and your children should think about.  Unless they develop a major illness, each and every morning your children get up out of bed, they are a little stronger, a little faster, and a little smarter than they were the day before.  During the previous day, their little bodies had a chance to grow new cells in all of their organs. Compared to the day before, their hearts got a little bigger as did their lungs, kidneys, and brains.  And of course, you are not paying attention if you don't notice the tremendous increase in their cognitive abilities - they get smarter every day as well.  There is this steady march of growth and increase in organ function all during childhood that halts sometime between 20 and 30 years of age.  Today, we are going to explore these phenomena in a little more detail and talk about why this aging/organ function curve has tremendous relevance for your children.  

Childhood is about growth and change:

Do you remember how thrilling it was, as a child, to acquire new skills?  I remember how excited I was when I learned to swim and dive, ride a bike, hit a jump shot from 15 feet, or hit a twist serve on a tennis court.  I could literally feel my body getting stronger, faster, and more agile by the day.  My growth and development physically seemed to increase until my 20’s, and then the party was over.  Yes, I continued to get more knowledgeable well into adulthood, but my physical growth and agility began to decline. Research supports these facts.  Current evidence confirms that humans reach their peak physical capacities between 20 and 30 years of age.  Peak cognitive ability comes a little later, about age 30 to 40.  

What this means is that, until the physical peak, each day your child is a little stronger, a little faster, able to burn more oxygen, and do more physical work.  After that peak day, no matter how much we wish it weren't so, there is a very slow but steady decline in our physical prowess. It doesn’t matter how many yoga classes we go to, how many weights we lift, or how many miles we run a week, the decline still occurs.  The rate of decline is biologic and predetermined. 

So here is the big take home point we all need to understand that is relevant for your children - Since physical decline is inevitable in adult life, it is vital that children maximize their peak physical abilities when they are young.  The higher a child's physical capacity is during their childhood, the longer and healthier a life they can have.  

Obviously, the children with the highest functional capacity as they enter adulthood are likely to be the ones who reach the disability threshold last.
By exercising, breathing hard, sweating, chasing other children, climbing trees, eating good food, getting enough quality sleep, and expanding and challenging their cognitive abilities, a child’s organs develop a higher peak capacity than if they sit playing video games, eat low quality processed food, or get low quality sleep while watching TV and texting late into the night.

Parents need to take action:

Here is the great news - kids, your kids, can improve their long-term health.  Good health as an adult is, to some degree, a choice.  Make sure your kids know that!  You and your child need to understand the graph of physical capacity versus age, and think about it as you make decisions about your child's activities, diet, and sleep habits.

We have all heard the expression, "use it or lose it"Well, it is extremely true - a fundamental truth of childhood.  Pack that little truism into little Johnny or Janie's head before they leave your care.  Maybe they will see why you are so interested in getting them to turn off the TV and video games and get outside to play.  Physical activity that your children experience will give them health they will carry their entire adult life. 

Here is a Doc Smo pearl for you to remember:  It's a terrible mistake for parents to underestimate their influence on their kids - or its corollary - Wisdom kept to oneself is wisdom wasted. Make sure you take a few minutes regularly to share your life wisdoms with your children. You will both benefit from the effort.

This is your host, Doc Smo, asking you to remind your children that they will never become fit, if all they do is sit. Until next time.

Smo Notes:

  1. Rate of decline of physical functioning in Women
  1. Age of Peak Cognitive ability