Top 5 Ways to Keep Your Tweens and Teens Healthy, Part 1

We live in a pressure cooker these days and when it comes to sports and activities for our kids, it's no different. I talk to lots of parents who travel around the country with their kids for tournaments and meets. Some kids are multi-sport athletes so their season never ends. The media doesn't help much either. If a kid shows promise at the tender age of ten, he or she can be labeled the next (you fill in the blank) and all of a sudden all eyes are on this innocent kid to change the face of that particular sport. So much pressure!

We live in such a performance oriented society and as parents it can be easy to get caught up in the grind.  Anytime I attend one of my kid's basketball games, I see the level of effort parents go through to film every game, keep stats, and sign-up for services designed to help their kid get discovered. You see, I'm concerned because I think that when it comes to true athletic success for our kids it's not just about the wins and stats that make an athlete great, it's the not-so-obvious things we can do for our kids to make them healthier for their sport on and offseason. Below are my top 5 ways to keep your tween and/or teen healthy for the long haul.

Tip #1: Help them manage stress. Stress is the number one reason so many folks have workplace-related illnesses. If you think about it, one day our young people will be in that same environment and they'll have even more stress on them than we did. Young people are under a great deal amount of stress and it's constant. They face stressors on a daily basis and social media is the magnifying glass. You have to be intentional about helping your kids manage stress. Help them discern how stress manifests itself. Insomnia, anxiety, and sports injuries can be an indicator of high stress levels. Teach them about deep breathing exercises along with learning how to shut down way before bedtime. Talk to them about the importance of having quiet time to get settled and recharge, without their phones. It can be tough for us to do this as parents but our kids look to us to set an example so we owe it to them to help them get a handle on stress early in their lives.

Tip #2: Teach them the importance of sleep. There was a time when Starbucks Coffee was for grown-ups and now it's not uncommon to see teenagers loading up on energy drinks to stay alert in order to knock-out their deadline. The problem with caffeine is that it's addictive and over time, can wreak havoc on sleep patterns. Too much caffeine is known to disrupt deep sleep and without a good 9-10 hours (yes, your tweens and teens are toddlers again), their cognitive function is impaired, they get sick often, and they're even moodier (imagine that?). If your kid is stressed out (see tip #1), sleep is affected so keep an eye out for how these two areas overlap.  

The first step in teaching your kids about the importance of sleep is to model it yourself. Get in the habit of doing things that tell the kids that it's time to wind down. Designate a check-in spot for cellphones, turn off all televisions by 9 PM, talk with family, or get out a good book. Get your kids in the habit early of shutting things down and they will learn to value their quiet time and eventually, it will become a habit for them.

In my next post I'll discuss my remaining tips on how to keep your tweens and teens healthy for life. The great thing about these tips is that once they become a habit, your kid will have an arsenal of tools to help them in their sport and in life. 

Nagging fitness injuries and what to do about them

How many times have you or someone you know finished a run or lifted weights with nagging pain? You know the scenario, it's not bad enough to sideline you, but you feel it every time you workout. If you find that you're in pain or experience consistent discomfort during your workouts, I have an unofficial diagnosis for you, chronic pain. Pain becomes a chronic issue when it lasts longer than several weeks and rest doesn't seem to make it better. In fact, many issues around chronic pain come from overuse of a certain body part or just plain ole overtraining.

Don't think you fall into that category because you're too young, really fit, or in denial? You're not alone. Studies show that more than 15 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. However, these same folks continue to do their workouts faithfully, train for 10Ks, ironman or even go hard at CrossFit. In fact, you can get so used to pain, it becomes your new normal. That's not good. If you're in chronic pain, there's a solution for you and it's cross-training.

So, how do you handle this pain dilemma? Now, I could tell you that the best thing for you to do is to stop training for a while, rest, and resume your routine. However, most of the time that's not the best way to deal with a nagging injury or twinge that you feel periodically. Plus, taking a week or two off can set you back too. Here's the deal. If you have a new injury, it's best to use the RICE Method which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. It's best to take a few days for your body to rest and 72 hours is a good window to see improvement. During that time, take some medicine to help with pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen or Tylenol are ideal. If your injury hasn't gotten better within another week or two, I recommend seeing your doctor to rule out any serious injuries and get the okay to continue exercise. The only time where I wouldn't recommend the two-week timeline is if you experience extreme swelling in a joint or debilitating pain within an hour or two after a workout. Waiting it out is not a good idea and could cause additional injury, so visit an Orthopedic Urgent Care Center right away. 

Now that you've got your doctor's okay to exercise and you want to get back in the game, what do you do first? Remember this mantra; cross-training needs to be a staple in my workout regimen. Here's the way it works. Let's say that you are a runner, a hardcore one at that. You experience some knee issues and now you feel the ache or pain regularly. Instead of running daily, cut down your runs to no more than 3 times per week. In-between your runs, hop on the elliptical, bike, or try deep water running to take the load off of your knee. Add some rest days in-between a few workouts and combine with ice, pain medicine as needed, and stellar nutrition.

As your body continues to heal, you do several things. One, you minimize additional damage to the tendons and ligaments around your knee. Two, you recruit and work different muscle fibers. Three, you feel better because the aches and pains associated with running aren't there. Lastly, you enjoy your workouts, recover better, and perform better in the long term. 

Now, before you go out there and resume your training I suggest you track your workouts going forward. Record what you do and how your body feels. For example, if you have shoulder issues and want to lift heavy, go light on the weights initially. You can always make it harder. Take note on how your shoulders feel through the movement. If you feel a slight twinge, don't push through it. Maintain good form through the end of the movement and drop the weight slightly. Lifting about ten percent less weight can be the one factor that will avoid further injury to your body. 

Nowadays, cross-training is the only way to go. Your body will recover well plus you'll feel better in-between workouts. Daily high-intensity workouts will burn calories but also put you at risk for overtraining and overuse injuries. Dial it back and you'll reap the benefits, I promise.