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Is Gymnastics Right for Your Child?

Many parents who are considering gymnastics for their children worry that there may be a relationship between gymnastics and delayed physical development. According to the International Gymnastics Federation, some professionals believe that physical development can be affected by a lack of sunshine and light, which gymnasts experience from being inside all day for school, training, or sleep. This fear is not without foundation, since the sun's ultraviolet rays help to synthesize vitamin D, which plays a role in building bone calcium. But the federation postulates that if there is a relationship between gymnastics and delayed growth, the main cause more likely would be intense and repeated physical effort.

Many studies have shown that intense physical activity causes changes in the secretion of hormones that control growth and maturation. Some hormones are known to reduce secretions and therefore slow growth. Physical signs of this include small stature, delayed bone growth, delayed onset of menses, and menstrual disorders. However, while some studies have focused specifically on gymnastics, others have not found any difference between the effects of gymnastics and other sports in general. Although gymnastics is often singled out, any sport can cause growth delays and postpone maturity, depending on the intensity at which the youth trains. Factors such as diet, climate, stress, and travel also affect many athletes.

The International Gymnastics Federation also notes that there is a "catching-up" phase in the research studied. Although there may be delays or disorders during training, the body is able to catch up during rest periods or at a later stage, with no aftereffects. A balanced diet and physical and mental health are as important as good training, and play a vital role in the catching-up phase.



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