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The Importance of Muscular Fitness for Youth

When it comes to the youth of our country, and even world, the overwhelming mentality is that muscular fitness is not a necessary component to physical activity. In fact, despite ample evidence that supports strength-building activities during this developmental phase of life, very few countries have physical activity recommendations and guidelines that include muscular fitness. With the prevailing recommendation being 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day, and the growing evidence of the benefits of muscular fitness activities, a recent paper¹ proposed that generic physical activity guidelines need to be updated to prioritize muscular fitness and strength-building in these guidelines.

The authors of the paper analyzed key World Health Organization (WHO) documents and National Physical Activity Guidelines for 25 countries and found that the common recommendations included at least 60 minutes of MVPA daily, with the majority being aerobic in nature, and very few guidelines on muscular fitness and strength-building. They argue that with reports that indicate that today’s youth are not as active as they should be, and with the decline in physical activity increasing steadily after age 6, that an urgent need is present to address physical inactivity during childhood and adolescence before today’s youth become resistant to exercise interventions later in life.

In order to properly address this epidemic, the authors suggest that the focus move away from “how much physical activity?” to “what type of physical activity?”. By integrating strength activities, skill activities, and aerobic activities, into what they term the pediatric activity pyramid (PAP), there is an emphasis on the co-equal sharing of each of these rather than the hierarchical design of traditional youth physical activity pyramids where aerobic activities make up the base (more important) and muscular activities the top (less important). They conclude that basic recommendations to simply “move more” are not enough to push the youth of today and state that the “activity-promoting and health-enhancing benefits of muscular fitness warrant a stronger emphasis on this issue and a new conceptual PAP model for promoting MVPA in all youth”.

Over the 21 years that I have been in practice I have seen more and more of my patients of all ages become unhealthy as a result of lack of movement and general activity. Despite numerous attempts to help them overcome this, I struggle to have the effect that I intend. Upon opening the doors to HealthFit in 2020, I had a passion to help individuals of all ages, including children and young adults, achieve optimal health and wellness through regular movement and exercise, with a particular emphasis on strength-training. We launched our flagship introductory eight-week program for adults, FitStart, late in 2020 and followed that up with FitStrong, our next level strength and conditioning program, both of which are achieving the desirable effects. But what really has me excited is the launch of our youth-focused programs, FitSport and FitKids, in the fall of 2021 (yes, that’s right around the corner!). These programs will hope to solve the predicament that the paper reviewed in this review mentions. It is high time that we as parents and providers look at the harm that we are causing to the youth that we are tasked with protecting and counseling. Short of the recommendations in this paper, the very least we can do is to provide the opportunity for our children to achieve the utmost health benefits that they deserve. Otherwise we are setting our children up for failure in health and well-being.

¹Making a Strong Case for Prioritizing Muscular Fitness in Youth Physical Activity Guidelines

Faigenbaum, Avery D. EdD, FACSM1; MacDonald, James P. MD, FACSM2; Stracciolini, Andrea MD, FAAP, FACSM3; Rebullido, Tamara Rial PhD

Current Sports Medicine Reports: December 2020 - Volume 19 - Issue 12 - p 530-536

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