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Fall in muscle strength in children

A team of researchers in the UK have shown that 10-year olds have become taller and heavier in recent years meaning their body mass index has remained reasonably stable. However, their strength and endurance has declined.

Strength and endurance are important to enable children to perform everyday tasks such as gripping pencils, carrying school bags and maintaining posture.

The study, in 2014, looked at a group of 10-year-old boys and girls where their height, weight, distance achieved in a standing jump, number of sit ups in 30 seconds, strength of handgrip and how long the children could keep their chin above a bar when hanging by their arms.

The children were also asked how much physical activity they did every week.

The results were compared with similar studies performed in 1998 and 2008. These results showed that the boys and girls had become taller and heavier but also showed a drop-in muscle fitness. There also appeared to be an increase rate in the decline in muscle strength in some respects.

The study showed there to be a 20% decrease in muscle strength and a 30% reduction in muscle endurance in 10-year olds over the 16-year period. There was a significant decline for boys and girls for the arm hang test but a greater decline in in handgrip strength in the boys and a greater decline in sit ups in the girls.

The researchers reported that one of the factors behind the drop may be that self-reported physical activity had fallen for both the boys and girls in 2008 and 2014 (there was no data for this in 1998). They reported that the decline in both sit ups and arm hangs may be because children have become less tolerant of discomfort as they are not used to doing the activity.

The researchers felt that the results are possibly not a true picture. The demographic areas that were in the study used are not as high in obesity or social deprivation as other areas. There are also other factors that could be contributing to the results including safety concerns for example climbing trees, running around outside as well as a rise in children spending time on computers.

In order to develop strength in a muscle it must be regularly and repeatedly used. Many children are no longer doing activity that promotes strength. There must be a greater awareness of the activities needed to keep children healthy. They should be active 60 minutes a day and three of those days should be strengthening exercises, which can include step ups, burpees, calf raises, bridges, planks and side planks, climbing and push ups to name but a few.

Improving strength and endurance contributes to a higher metabolism which increase calorific use which in turn reduces the risk of obesity. It also helps reduce the risk of serious injury as the tendons and ligaments are stronger and the joints remain in better health.