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Building Physically Resilient Adults

When I was a kid I used to leave home in the morning and play with the kids in the street all day. We didn’t come home until the street lights lit up and Mum didn’t care where we were as long as we weren’t late for dinner.  We used to climb trees, play cricket on the road and ride our bikes without helmets.  We used to…. Sound familiar?  I think at any point in time you will hear adults make comment on the younger generation and the things that they do today that they did not do when they were kids.

More often it is an expression of the deterioration of the state of childhood as they know it.  And while I am aware that historically there are and always will be progressions and changes in lifestyle, at risk of sounding like an old retrospective know-it-all, I want to highlight that the lifestyles’ of our children are pivotal in their neuromuscular and musculoskeletal development and can lead to positive and negative influences on their body for their whole life.

Anecdotally there does seem to be a higher incidence of injuries such as ankle sprains, knee ligament ruptures and some bone injuries. Many of these injuries are the result of inherent decreased neuromuscular and musculoskeletal function.  That is, that our bodies are inefficient at making the necessary reactive changes from brain to muscle to correct any unexpected change in movement.  It does appear that there are many more distractions due to technology that prevent many children from being as active as they could.  And when they are active, whether this be due to social change, expectations or other reasons, when children are active, they tend to be involved in structured and organised programs.   Most sports have devised pathways that at the grassroots level encourage participation on a mass scale to teach the basic skills of the sport and progress them as age and skill acquisition develops.  And while these programs are of high value, they often encourage predictable movement patterns that perhaps do not optimally develop a person’s ability to adapt to a wide range of physical demands.

There does also appear to be a shift in the boundaries of what today’s children are allowed to do. There is certainly a greater fear of children facing general risk in the community that prompts closer supervision.  Whether this is a real or perceived risk is unfounded statistically.  This supervision is certainly easier due to the smaller size of families today.  However, we need to consider that a child’s body is a work in progress and will develop according to their environment.  While I am not advocating that children dress up in their superman suit and jump from the garage roof, we need to be prepared to put our children in situations of calculated risk to enhance their physical development.  We know that the single best way to maximise bone health and minimise osteoporosis is for children to perform high volumes of weight-bearing activity in their prepubescent years.  Similarly their balance will progress with climbing activities and walking over challenging surfaces.  We also know that generally children’s bodies heal relatively well and very quickly compared to adults.  Therefore the risk of children being injured is something to consider as we endeavour to develop adults of physical resilience in the future.