By: Laura Znajda, PT, C/NDT
A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last month ranked United States children among the least fit in the world—the US ranked 47th out of 50 countries in physical fitness of our children! With a sedentary lifestyle linked to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, it is more important than ever to get our children moving and instill healthy behaviors that will last a lifetime. It’s been shown that children whose parents exercise regularly are more likely to exercise and be active as adults. Exercising together is fun and more motivating for both parents and their kids.
A good physical fitness program includes a variety of exercise and movement activities. Pilates is just one of many exercise methods that is gaining popularity among adults, and with its focus on core strength, stability, and body awareness, this exercise method can be used with kids too–and with great benefits. And since many Pilates exercises use body or limb weight for resistance strengthening, little to no equipment is needed. So grab a piece of floor and perhaps an exercise ball, and have fun while being active with your kids!
Pilates Bridge is an exercise that strengthens gluteal (buttock) muscles and hamstrings, while providing a stretch to flexor muscles across the front of the hips. It requires core muscles to work together, leading to good posture and balance for all future dancers, gymnasts and sports enthusiasts. To make it fun for kids, help them place feet (and lower legs if more support is needed) on an exercise ball and lift hips and spine off the floor. Weight should be on the shoulders and feet. You can stabilize the ball if needed, or have the child wedge the ball in a corner before starting.
Swimming Exercise strengthens extensor muscles of the back, hips, thighs and calves that kids need for running and jumping. Lying flat on the tummy, have the child lift one arm at a time, keeping the legs straight and long. As the child gets stronger, cue him to lift one or both legs off the floor , always keeping them stretched as long as possible.
Younger children might need help stabilizing one arm against the floor while they lift the other. Make it fun by pretending to be an alligator chomping on his dinner or reaching for small objects.
Pilates Leg Circles are hard for many adults, and even harder for young kids who lack abdominal strength to stabilize the trunk while moving their legs above their body. But working on the starting position for this exercise will help kids learn to engage abdominal muscles prior to moving their legs when climbing or kicking a ball. Ask the child to lie on his back and lift his feet above his body (hips at a 90 degree angle). Make it fun by placing small bean bag animals on his feet or ask him to squeeze the animals between his feet.
Plank strengthens core muscles that are critical for a stable, balanced body, whether your child likes to exercise on the playground or by playing a competitive sport. The key with plank is to only hold the pose for as long as you can keep good form.
Give your child the support of an exercise ball to start, bringing her forward onto her hands. Keep the ball positioned under the hips if needed; move it to the lower legs as the child gets stronger. She should be able to keep her tummy lifted and the back straight (not arched or sagging). As soon as the trunk starts to lose its form, take a rest and try again after a minute or two. Make it fun by singing a song while holding the plank position.
Proof that Pilates exercise can be used by everyone, many Pilates moves have been adapted for use in rehabilitation. Pilates is used to rehabilitate orthopedic injuries in adults as well as to strengthen and improve body awareness for children with neuromuscular disorders.
Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley therapists are expanding their knowledge of using Pilates in therapy with a continuing education course taught by Sara Koveleski Kraut, DPT, on January 21-22, 2017. The course is open for registration by adult and pediatric therapists at eastersealsdfvr.org/ce.
Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley is also a teaching center that provides innovative continuing education courses that promote therapeutic excellence for speech and language pathologists, physical and occupational therapists, educators and other professionals. To be added to the course email list, please email us.