My eldest daughter received her NYC Fitness Gram the other day. The Fitness Gram details her BMI, muscle strength, endurance, flexibility and aerobic fitness levels. It is sanctioned by the NYC Dept. of Education.
I realize that these tests are designed and created to asses the general health and fitness of each child with the best of intentions. I also realize that these sorts of tests are not supposed to be highly accurate depictions of a child's actual fitness level (whatever that really means, truth be told they are pretty useless.
For example, all kids are asked to do push ups the same way. Doesn't matter if you are really top heavy or not. A heavy kid might be a lot stronger than an thin kid but do less total push-ups (each push up for the heavy kid would be akin to placing 5 NYC phone books on the thin kids back). So the heavy kid gets a worse score even though he is a lot stronger than the thin kid.
When it came to the flexibility test my daughter scored really well. Of course, it helps to have long arms and a long torso in this sit and reach test. If your legs are long and your arms and torso are short you'll score poorly even though the child's level of flexibility is perfectly healthy -- for them.
The really interesting thing this about this Fitness Gram are the sidebar notations.
For example, the sit and reach test which, allegedly, tests the flexibility of the child, has a sidebar that reads:
"Maintain your fitness by stretching slowly 3 or 4 days each week..."
This is an interesting statement because my daughter never, ever stretches. So her almost off the charts flexibility was not achieved by an iota of stretching. It is highly unlikely that she'll need to stretch then to maintain it.
If you look at the curl ups which are really crunches, my daughter was off the charts. 22 was considered very high and she did 50. On the sidebar it says:
"Your abdominal and trunk strength are both in the Healthy Fitness Zone. To maintain your fitness abdominal and trunk strength (what is the difference really?) should be done 3 to 5 days each week."
Where is the science to support this silly idea? And besides, how did she wind up doing nearly double the very high amount when she never does trunk curls?
At the top right hand side of the paper it says:
"To be healthy and fit, it is important to do some physical activity almost everyday..."
This is not a bad idea but I have yet to see a kid who does not do some form of physical activity everyday. I know that these kids do exist, but they are rare and more than likely need emotional help rather than forcing them to go outside and play.
"Aerobic exercise is good for your heart and body composition..."
There is little if any scientific evidence to support this common idea. Body composition is not affected when kids are placed into aerobic exercise programs unless diet is accounted for.
As for the heart, aerobic exercise does next to nothing especially in children. Aerobic exercise increases the amount of mitochondria (cellular powerhouses) within the muscle (as does weight lifting). The heart merely goes along for the ride.
"Strength and flexibility exercises are good for your muscles and joints."
While it is true that strength exercises are good for your muscles and joints, flexibility exercises are not. In other words, there is little if any scientific evidence to support the idea that stretching exercises are beneficial especially for children.
If we are going to create tests to help keep our children healthy and strong it would be helpful if we stuck to science rather than fitness lore. We owe our children at least this much don't you think?