What gives? There is a raging obesity epidemic out there. Too little exercise=computer potato. But too much exercise? What harm? As it turns out, more than meets the eye: sleep disordered breathing and sleep apnea, acid reflux disease, eating problems, mood disorders and headaches.
How is this possible? Isn’t exercise good for our kids? Of course. But like everything, the right amount, at the right time, and in the with the right digestive circumstances. Too much exercise leaves not enough time for other important activities. Eating, for example. Kids get picked up from school, eat a sandwich in the car, or worse, stop off at some fast food joint and down fries and a burger, before they go off to play hockey for three hours. At 7 or 8 pm they get home and have a “dinner” also usually take out because who wants to cook at that hour? Or maybe “just a snack” of a bowl of cereal and milk. Then off to bed.
Sound familiar? What’ wrong with this picture? When I ask these kids, “While you play hockey, does the food ever come up into your mouth?” The reply, 90% of the time is a very surprise, “Yes.” They ate a big meal, that hasn’t digested within an hour of doing some pretty heavy duty exercise, usually washed down with some gatorade or other toxic chemical not meant for the human gut.
Our grandmothers were right! Don’t go into the water to swim just after you eat. Rest a while. Digest your food. And eating on the run just makes it worse. Eating late at night, especially the milk fat and protein which slow down digestion, for some people, results in nocturnal acid reflux with associated frequent night awakenings and in some instances, sleep apnea. Lack of sleep leads to headaches and mood disorders.
What do I tell a mother who insists her teenage daughter must dance 5 hours one night a week and 3 hours 3 other nights and on Saturdays? It’s a hard sell to tell them that this “exercise” is way out of proportion to what she needs, and, in fact is hazardous to her health.
Three things to remember:
1. We need time to digest our food, stay in an upright position and relax.
2. Exercise in excess puts too much pressure on the child for other activities such as “down time” to think about things, to do nothing. That is not to say become a “computer potato” but have time to talk to friends, be with family, have a spiritual life.
3. Eating late at night, when all our blood flow should go to the resting brain, additionally creates the perfect circumstances for the stomach to reject hard to digest milk fat and proteins, and send it right back up into our throats. We wake up in response to a potential for aspiration and our sleep is disrupted. It is not the exercise that is keeping us from sleeping, but the food we are eating at the wrong time because there is not enough time to finish a dinner before 7 p.m. if you get into bed at 9 p.m.
These kids may not be obese because they exercise a lot and don’t eat too much, but they are far from healthy. If this sounds like your kid, well maybe you should look at his or her schedule and adjust accordingly. It’s a tough sell.