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Can Too Much Exercise Damage a Child?

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 14 Jul 2018 |
Can Too Much Exercise Damage A Child?


I have a very healthy and fit 7-year-old son, who enjoys football training 5 times a week. He has recently started coming running with me, once or twice a week, no more than 3 km at a time.

He enjoys it and never complains of any pain or discomfort, sometimes even asking to run longer. Can this damage his muscles or bones in any way, as some friends say it might?

(R.P, 17 February 2009)


It’s hard to say how much exercise is too much – in fact, most parents and carers are concerned that their children do too little. The UK Government and medical experts recommend 60 to 90 minutes of exercise a day for children.

Provided he seems happy and injury-free, running around 3 km shouldn’t cause any problems. It’s important to wear good quality running shoes, not any old trainers, because these will cushion the impact of the ground and reduce the risk of injury, with suitable bright-coloured clothing that makes sure he is visible and means he doesn’t get too hot or too cold.

Anyone running should make sure he or she drinks plenty of fluids (these don’t have to be additive- and sugar-filled expensive sports drinks) and eats a good balanced diet. This should include five fruit and veg a day, lean protein, complex carbohydrates (including whole grains) and fat from healthy sources such as oily fish, eggs, nuts and seeds (as well as the occasional treat!) When running in the sun, wear sunscreen and sunglasses.

Overtraining or overuse, especially in children, does increase the risk of bone, tendon, muscle, cartilage, joint and ligament injuries, and will not allow time for minor injuries to heal, so it is important to have times of rest, and to alternate difference forms of exercise. Children’s bones may not be a strong as adults’ bones, and children may not recognise the symptoms of strains and injuries, so be aware of how they move, and listen to any reports of pain or tiredness. Other signs of overtraining can include performing less well, for example drops in times or distances, or mistakes in routines, tiredness, lack of motivation and irritability.

Watch out for compulsive exercising, where a child feels compelled to exercise rather than doing it for the pleasure or social aspect, and feels guilt if exercise sessions are missed. This can be associated with an eating disorder, and can result in long-term physical and psychological damage. Parents or carers concerned about compulsive exercising or eating disorders should urgently seek medical advice.

Above all, make sure that it is always fun – vary routes and running surfaces, have lists of things to look out for, borrow a dog and see if it likes running, make up chants or running songs, or just make it an opportunity for a good long chat.

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I am my wits end with my 14 year old daughter is very active playing football which is her love and passion she is on the go all day but reason for my message is she hardly eats we are battling dinner time she try’s to compromise the food
Bellybutton - 14-Jul-18 @ 9:43 PM
Hi, I'm currently having a 'debate' over the amount of exercise my children do at the weekend - one of us feels that the amount they do is acceptable, the other feels it may cause long term muscle/physical damage - any help would be great! child 1 - aged 8 - mon-thurs - school only, Fri school + 1 hour football training, Sat AM occasional football match, Sat PM - 1/2 hour swimming lesson, Sun AM football match Child 2 - aged 5 - Mon-Fri - school only, Sat AM 1 hour football training Sat PM 1/2 hour swimming lesson Please advise thanks
Helen - 29-Sep-12 @ 7:53 PM
Really like your write-up, very educational and worthwhile. It really assisted me a lot specifically on my techniques, moves and strategies. I like to play football ever since I was a young child, my target is to be an experienced football player one day. Regards! :)
chargers tickets - 14-Jul-12 @ 5:32 AM
I have a son who has recently turned eight years old, who is football mad. He spends every free moment playing on our local all weather pitch. This pitch consists of artificial grass on top of tarmac. He wears shoes that are designed for playing on artificialgrass, that are fitted with awide plastic stud. I am concerned that playing/spending so much time on this unforgiving surface could lead tojoint damage and related difficulties in later years. I would be interested in any opinions you may have.
Mikaela - 16-Apr-12 @ 3:45 PM
Hello, My daughter is a rather slight, delicate creature, and I am not very happy that her primary school sports is football for girls. I feel that she is not of a suitable physical type for the exercise provided by football, and I think in any case, that the school are starting this too young (she is just seven). She is otherwise fit and healthy, and enjoys plenty of exercise such as climbing, walking and running, and bouncing on a trampoline, and it seems sensible to enlarge upon the kinds of exercise that girls do naturally, and not to change their direction at a very young age, to something that has quite a high injury rate. Is there any evidence against football, and similar sports for girls? When I was at school, we played netball and basketball, but not until we were nine..
phew! - 9-Sep-11 @ 9:06 AM
Hiya, my 8 year old son is exercise mad - he at athletics twice a week, tennis, goes to mini gym 4 times a week for an hour and in any spare time doesnt stop running, plus karate once a week and swimming.He's developed muscles and a six pack athough he's thin he eat really well!He's never injured himself and really enjoys sport - could he be doing himself any damage - the gp said No, but I'm not sure!
Berni - 1-Aug-11 @ 9:05 PM
Thanks!I had the same question and this helped!Thanks!Our 8yo son loves to come hiking with us, for miles each time, and I was wondering about this, too.
Debbie - 27-May-11 @ 5:15 PM
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