To Be or Not To Be A Gymnast?

With the Olympics in full swing, and U.S. gymnasts racking up gold medal after gold medal you’re probably thinking….”Maybe I should get my kid into gymnastics!” But shortly after that statement you might wonder “what are the benefits of gymnastics?” or better yet “what are the risks?”.

Well it’s those sort of questions that led to me writing about the common benefits that come with gymnastics. Oh, and the risks too!

Benefits
After reviewing a few different sources I found some common themes that benefit those in the world of gymnastics. For starters, participation in weight-bearing activities like gymnastics can help to develop strong, healthy bones. This is important to develop at a young age as we inevitably experience a decrease in bone mass every year the more we age. Building strong, healthy bones when children are young can help reduce the risks of developing osteoporosis later in life.

Another common benefit for gymnasts is something beyond physical gain, and that is the benefit of improving concentration and mental focus. Gymnastics allows children the chance to think for themselves, to stimulate their imaginations, and to determine how to solve problems safely.

Also, gymnasts have been known not react with as large of a “startle response” to sudden changes in balance as non-gymnasts. By applying their conditioning outside the sport, those people become better equipped to avoid hazardous situations by quickly identifying them and naturally correcting body alignment when walking, standing, or jumping. In other words, they are less likely to fall when the stumble of something that was unexpected.

An additional advantage in gymnastics is an increasing level of flexibility. This can be an effective aid in the reduction of injury by preventing people from forcing a limb to an overextended position. By learning movements and combining them in a routine, gymnasts often attain greater flexibility and greater control of the body.

To add to all of that, a 2001 study conducted by researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey also indicated that children who participated in physical activity like gymnastics were likely to have better self-esteem and self-efficacy. They found that the more time children ages 10 to 16 spent being active, the higher they reported having self-efficacy and self-esteem.

The American Heart Association recommends children take part in 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Therefore, participating in gymnastics would help kids meet these exercise recommendations and will likely raise those kids’ feelings of being amazing! Gymnastics can help maintain a healthy body weight, which is also key to preventing many health conditions such as asthma, cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Those are just some of the benefits kids get with the gymnast life, but let’s not forget about the other side of this discussion. Many people who have been around gymnastics can also attest to the negatives that come with the lifestyle as much as they can about the positives. So let us mention those so we have a full picture.

Risks

Right from the beginning it must be mentioned that sustaining an injury is one of the largest cons of participating in gymnastics. A study, conducted by researchers in the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, examined information on children 6 to 17 years of age who were treated in hospital emergency departments for gymnastics-related injuries between 1990 and 2005. According to its findings, on average nearly 27,000 injuries are reported each year. To go one step further, the likelihood of being injured while doing gymnastics is 4.8% per 1,000 gymnasts, and those between the ages of 12 and 17 had the highest rate of injury at 7.4% per 1,000 gymnasts.

Another reported issue was that children who take gymnastics training at a young age are no longer allowed to simply be children. Training can take up a good deal of their time so they don’t often have the luxury of free play. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child may experience feelings of failure and frustration when the demands of the sport exceed their cognitive and physical development.

Extreme dieting may be another serious hazard to young children due to the pressure to stay small in gymnastics. This can lead to eating disorders and stunted growth which can also have lasting, psychological effects on preteen and teen. In a 1992 NCAA survey, 51% of the gymnastics programs that responded reported eating disorders among its team members, a far greater percentage than in any other sport.

Parents who may be considering gymnastics for their children often worry that there may be a relationship between gymnastics and delayed physical development. The International Gymnastics Federation believes that if there is a relationship between gymnastics and delayed growth, it is likely related to intense and repeated physical effort.
Many studies have shown that intense physical activity causes changes in the release of hormones that control growth. Physical signs of this include small stature, delayed bone growth, delayed onset of menses, and menstrual disorders.

However, while some studies have focused specifically on gymnastics, others have not found any difference between the effects of gymnastics and other sports in general. Although gymnastics is often singled out, any sport can cause growth delays and postpone maturity, depending on the intensity at which the child trains.

So there you have it. As always please consult with a health care professional before making any medically related decisions and good luck on creating the next or first Olympic gymnast in the family.

– Supreme Soul

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