Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the United States. According the CDC, 18% of 6-11 year olds and 21% of 12-19 year olds were obese in 2012, with poor nutrition, defunding of physical education and city-wide park programs, and an increase in sedentary lifestyle to blame. It is interesting to ask then, “Can kids exercise too much?”
As with all things, too much of a good thing can be injurious to a person. I will discuss 3 risks of excessive exercise in children: mental health disorders, overuse injuries, and risk of quitting exercise all together.
The Risks of Too Much Exercise in Kids:
- Compulsive Exercise, also known as obligatory exercise and anorexia athletica, is a compulsion to exercise or practice that outweighs injuries, illnesses, homework, other activities, even friends and family. The exercise or practice no longer brings joy to the child, but they feel compelled to perform, feeling guilt or anxiety when unable to exercise.
- Overuse injuries in the young athlete is a phenomenon of the 21st Early specialization in sports in children as young as 6 years old has created a culture of overuse injuries (see blog on sport specialization). The American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends 2-3 months off between same sport season and at least 1 day off a week of organized activity. They recommend limiting “sporting activity to a maximum of 5 days per week with at least 1 day off from any organized physical activity. In addition, athletes should have at least 2 to 3 months off per year from their particular sport during which they can let injuries heal, refresh the mind, and work on strength, conditioning, and proprioception in hopes of reducing injury risk.” 
- “Burn-out” from a particular sport, from running, or from exercise all together is a major risk of too much exercise as child, regardless of whether the child is forced into the activity or freely chooses it. The goal of a healthy childhood is to build a foundation for a healthy lifestyle as an adult. When a child exercises too much, they risk burn-out from a couple of areas, specifically, injuries that lead to inability to continue performing preferred activity and inability to rest mind and body sufficiently.
While exercise is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle, it is important to always make sure to monitor the frequency of exercise.
 “Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes.” Brenner, Joel S. Pediatrics, Vol. 119; 1242-1245. 2007.