Debate: Baby's day at the gym

Jan 08, 2013, 00:38 IST | Ruchika Kher

Gone are the days when after school, kids would jump, run and play in the outdoors until it got dark. Today, with the mushrooming of child-specific gyms, Mumbai's kids are headed in another direction. Besides, young teens are already enrolling into adult gyms. The Guide spoke to gym owners, fitness experts and doctors to probe further - how safe is it for kids to be at the gym?

As a kid, all one was concerned about was making the most of the time, post school, and this meant sweating it out on the playground with friends until totally exhausted. However, as society is evolving and fads change in a flash, children and their childhood activities seeing a change as well.

The latest trend that has been grabbing eyeballs has been the the increase in the number of kids attending gyms. While on the one hand, specialised gyms for kids have sprung up in different areas of the city, on the other side, gyms for grown-ups are seeing a rise in kids signing up, some as young as 18 months.

Start early
“Child obesity is growing at an alarming rate due to unhealthy, fast-paced urban lifestyles, junk food and related factors. To tackle this menace, gyms for kids are becoming an option,” says Anchal Gupta, director of performance institute, Arts in Motion in Sion that also houses a gym meant mainly for kids. Entrants here fall in the age group of three to 13 years.

Adding to this, Dr Ekta Bhatia, who is a Pediatric Physiotherapist and also runs activity centre Lil’ Munchkins that offers kids’ gym facilities says that when working with kids, one must be more receptive to how a child thinks and perceives exercise. When done under the umbrella of fun and play, it is most beneficial as compared to strict therapy protocol. The gym admits kids from 18 months up to 12 years.

“There is a lack of playing space in buildings, most of our gardens and public parks are no longer well maintained, video games and TV time is on a rise, which has resulted in an overall decrease in the fitness and activity levels in a child, today,” she elaborates. Dr Bhatia adds that this has led to an increase in child obesity and is also one of the reasons for the rising numbers in learning disabilities seen in children today including handwriting issues, flat feet, fractures to problems faced by special kids. Hence, it is important to pay attention to fitness from an early age.

Mixing it up
Lil’ Munchkins’ gym (with branches at Khar, Vile Parle and Sion) for kids includes a rock climbing wall and a monkey bar. They also have a jungle gym equipped with malakhamb ropes, ladders, monkey rings and monkey bars (trapeze) and a room with the latest children’s’ gym equipment like a treadmill, cycle and trampoline. “We also have a room dedicated to the more therapeutically oriented equipment like balance boards, balance springs, exercise balls and thera-bands,” informs Bhatia.

In the big league
It’s not just kids’ gyms that are bringing in clientele; adult gyms have been getting queries from young adults too. Niran Ponappa, Fitness Manager, Fitness First, throws light on the fact that they have seen kids keen to join their gym. “We observe that parents who are fit and are active gym goers often make enquiries about their kids to sign up. In one of our clubs, 10 to 20 parents have come forward in the past.” 16 years is the required limit for entrants to this Oshiwara gym, he tells us.

Gym trainers feel that if instructed properly, a gym can prove to be beneficial for kids. Ponappa feels that working out in a gym could be advantageous, if done the right way, and under supervision. He adds that kids, nowadays who are not exposed to outdoor activity, trying out the group exercises at a gym definitely improves their activity levels.

However, if not done consciously, the fitness routine can be harmful as well. “We see young boys coming in today who only want to work on their upper body. This could cause lower back trouble and growth issues down the line. We have also observed that, some kids indulge in too much cardio and end up losing too much weight, which can also cause growth issues later. To avoid interfering with the role of growth hormones in the body and to prevent injury, we always recommend that kids exercise under the supervision of an expert,” explains Ponappa.

It’s not cool
While there are people, who are in favour of gymming for kids, there are several others who are totally against the practice and feel that the best option for kids is outdoor activities. Abhishek Sharma, author of the recently released book, Fitness on the Go, is absolutely against the idea of kids heading to gyms. “It is any day better for kids to go outdoors to run, exercise or play sports rather than hitting a gym.

Children’s bodies are still growing, and should not be subjected to any unnatural movements using excessive machines, as it can be harmful to their natural growth. Running too much on the treadmill or doing excessive weight training using fixed machines are not entirely natural movements and should be avoided by children,” he says.

Echoing a similar thought, Dr Nilesh Palwankar, pediatrician with Medscape India explains that it is not advisable for kids to start gymming since if they start at a young age the ossification centre in the body closes early, which affects growth.
The debate rages on between what’s healthy and what’s safe. Watch this space.

(L-R) Brangelina with their kids; Gwyneth Paltrow and daughter Apple. Pics/ Getty Images

Hollywood’s celeb kids in the gym
> Heidi Klum is often seen accompanying her daughter Leni to gym class.
> Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie often take their six kids for gym sessions
> Nicole Richie’s son Harlow Madden is a regular at the child centred gym for workouts.
> Britney Spears’ son Jayden James attends a fitness centre.
> Gwyneth Paltrow’s children, Apple and Moses attend a playspace and movement centre
> The Impossible and King Kong actress, Naomi Watts brings her kids, Sasha and Sammy to the same gym as Paltrow’s.

You can get it here...
Arpan Associates and Kid Ken Solutions are some of the manufacturers of equipment for kid’s gyms. “It is an on-setting trend and is at an infant stage. Not many are aware of it, fully, but we do get orders for equipment like log roll, stationary cycle and vertical gyms,” informs Anil Mehta of Arpan Associates. 

The age when your bones stop growing though the body constantly rebuilds new bone cells

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