Is Gymnastics “Fantastic” or “Drastic”?
To celebrate the recent National Gymnastics day, we take a look at how gymnastics affects the human body in both the short and long term?
Do the health benefits outweigh the potential dangers? And is this a sport to be encouraged amongst the young US population, or one to be avoided?
Benefits to the Body and Mind
Gymnastics is a complex physical activity with physiological and psychological benefits. It encourages thousands of children and young adults to join one of approximately 4,000* member clubs in the US, many of whom aspire to reach Olympic stardom, although this really is only for the elite few.
Gymnasts generally experience enhanced flexibility and strength, as well as greater bone density from their training efforts. Experts also report an increase in mental cognition, reduced stress levels, improved listening skills and a greater focus on detail and precision.
The University of Florida released a report demonstrating gymnasts are also better at problem solving and have longer attention spans. When taught by accredited teachers and supported by understanding parents, gymnastics can create a positive self-image and encourages a willingness to try, regardless of failure. The reverse effect is in fact possible when parents push children to achieve beyond their capabilities or teachers are overly disciplining. The continual striving for perfection can also be a double-edged sword.
Increase Risk of Injury
Due to the nature of gymnastics, injury can be frequent. Broken bones and sprains are common, particularly to the knee, ankle and wrist and most injuries involve some kind of spinal or backbone trauma, which, if not treated effectively can lead to posture and movement problems later in life.
80% of gymnasts in the US are under 18, meaning they are more susceptible to lower back and lumber vertebrae damage as their bodies are still developing.
Research by the University of Sydney in 2010, showed 50% of gymnasts reported an injury within a 12-month period. The results indicated that 11-15 year olds were the most vulnerable.
Hospital admissions for gymnastic related injuries are also high. 425,000+, 6 to 17 year olds, were seen in emergency rooms between 1990 and 2005, reports American College of Emergency Physicians. Calculations show a 5% per thousand chance of injury, which increases to 7.5% for those aged between 12 and 17.
A Long-Term Pain in the Back
Wear and tear on the spinal discs as well as torsional injury (twisting), are just a few long-term pains that can be caused from gymnastics.
A survey published by Gymnastics Rescue, of 100 girls aged 11-15, who had trained in gymnastics for 5 years, showed 5 times the likelihood of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), abnormal curving of the spine, than other non gymnasts in their peer group.
However, on the other side, retired but still physically active, gymnasts showed continued higher levels of bone density of the radius, humerus, femur and tibia as well as stronger fore and upper arm muscles, according to a study by the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.
Messing with Mother Nature
76% of gymnasts in the US are female, however, for both genders puberty can cause a problem. Height and weight changes can cause balance issues and with puberty generally comes increased muscle for boys and increased fat for girls.
There is a continual pressure to remain thin so anorexia and bulimia can be a risk and this can have short-term effects, such as girls starting to menstruate late as well as the longer-term effects to the endocrine, cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
A study by Pediatric Exercise Science assessed high volume gymnastics training of 30 hours per week compared to moderate training of 15 hours for 10 to 13 year olds. Those in the higher volume group, after 3 years were smaller, yet stronger and none of the girls had started menstruating, compared to some who had in the moderate training group.
Help for Gymnasts
There are products available to help gymnasts remain as fit and healthy as possible during training. Back braces, which compress and support the spine without restricting movement, are useful as well as various gels and creams for muscular aches and pains.
After all is said and done, gymnastics can be a fantastic sport for any child or young adult to participate in – bringing focus and dedication are attributes to aspire to.
If not managed properly though, implications can be drastic and health risks great. Taking the correct advice and leading a healthy balanced lifestyle is key to enjoying sport and reducing the risk of injury.
Are you doing what you can to make gymnastics a fantastic sport rather than a drastic one?
(* USA gym)