Why Strength Training Could Add Years to a Teenager Fighting Cystic Fibrosis
The recommended time frame in which a teenager should start some form of weight training is dependent on multiple factors such as, age and maturation. It is not uncommon to see a lot of teenagers introduced to weight training during their freshmen year of high school in PE and/or during a high school sport. This is where most teenagers start to learn the basics of weight lifting. I believe this is an important transition in a teenager’s life, with maturation and independency growing during these years. Teaching a teenager the basic fundamentals of weight lifting and strength creates an increased sense of strength and stability to build off of both mentally and physically. Introducing a teenager to lifting weights could add years to their lives. I believe every teenager should do some form of weight lifting, but I truly believe that lifting weights is an outlet to add years to a teenager’s life who is battling a pulmonary disease like cystic fibrosis.
The impact lifting weights has on teenagers and young adults during and after exercise has been highly researched in healthy individuals and is starting to gain ground in the CF community. Lifting weights has shown to improve mental health, increase skeletal muscle mass, and increase cardiovascular endurance in teenagers. Three very important factors that play a role in the decline of individuals with cystic fibrosis. Not because individuals with CF don’t have the capacity, but because they have been battling a genetic anomaly from birth and that keeps the internal systems on a higher alter causing an increase in the frequency of stress responses within the body. Introducing a teenager with CF to weight training could increase their strength and endurance capacity to fight, directly improving their strength and endurance, which has a direct role in lung function.
Resistance training increases neuromuscular adaptive changes in skeletal muscle and changes neuromuscular function. These adaptive changes in skeletal neuromuscular function have been linked to increased maximal contractile muscle force and power output in both children and adults. Strength training not only improves mechanical muscle function, it also increases motor unit recruitment, which increases frequency excitability, connective tissue strength and proprioceptive awareness.
Why This Matters
The diaphragm muscle is the primary respiratory muscle in breathing, and it is also a skeletal muscle which means weight lifting can improve respiratory muscle strength. Increasing core strength gives the respiratory system a higher potential to generate force and power to increase oxygen consumption. skeletal muscle strength also improves joint movement. Improved joint movement decreases stress on the body and ultimately decreases the stress placed upon the lungs and heart. Research has shown that increasing overall strength can directly improve cardiovascular endurance.
Research has shown that resistance training improves strength and improving strength in CF is extremely important as a child gets older. Hussey, Gormley, Leen, and Greally (2002) investigated peripheral muscle strength in young males with cystic fibrosis and found a correlation with decreased FEV1 values and knee muscle strength and shoulder flexion strength at 90°/s in the subjects with CF (13 subjects) compared to the controlled group. Muscular strength plays an important role in cystic fibrosis. Van Iterson et al. (2016) found a significant relationship with FVC and FEV1 in exercise duration and peak workload in young adults with CF. Exercise duration and peak workload are a combination of strength and endurance. The integration of a weight lifting program at a proper age to a teenager with CF could change this and add years to their life.
It doesn’t have to start in the weight room, and I believe it shouldn’t start there. Every kid should start with body weight push-ups, planks, squats, lunges, hip hinging, chin ups, and crawling and rolling on the ground. Body weight training starts when a kid is born. As a child grows and develops, his/her strength should grow with it well into the teenager years. After body weight training, comes the introduction to external loads such as dumbbells and barbells. Each child is different and their journey to lifting is never the same, but every young adult with CF should be exploring resistance training and/or weight lifting. There are just too many positives that come along with getting the mind and body stronger.
Hussey, J., Gormley, G., Leen, G., & Greally, P. (2002). Peripheral muscle strength in young males with cystic fibrosis. Journal of Cystic Fibrosis.
Van Iterson, E. H., Wheatley, C. M., Baker, S. E., Morgan, W. J., & Snyder, E. M. (2016). The relationship between cardiac hemodynamics and exercise tolerance in cystic fibrosis. Heart & lung: the journal of critical care, 45(3), 283-90.
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Intrinsic motivation is something that develops over time. Kids don’t yet have the cognitive abilities to grasp the concept that, “exercising is good for physical and mental health.” The understanding that by “doing something good for your body now, your future self will thank you,” is far too abstract. Kids don’t live for the future, they live for the here and now.
By the time children are in high school and/or go through puberty, those high order thinking cognitive processes begin to develop. However, social obligations and a sense of figuring out one’s own identify often trump the desire to be consistently active for one’s own physical and/or mental health purposes.
Sports certainly help, as they play a role in encouraging healthy competitiveness within oneself and others, as well as promotes team building and social opportunities that child and young adults actively seek out. However, not every kid plays a sport or has the health opportunities to actively participate in one. So, how do we encourage motivating?
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Some will say, intrinsic motivation is ideal because it creates long lasting effects on one’s drive and purpose to reach a goal. The definition of intrinsic motivation is, “behavior that is driven by internal rewards.” Extrinsic motivation is the opposite. Extrinsic motivation is defined as, “behavior that is motivated to perform an activity to receive an award or avoid punishment.”
When starting to increase your child’s motivation to exercise, extrinsic motivation is the “easiest” way to go. When young, a child/teen is beginning to develop his/her own sense of motivation and enjoyment from exercising, something that is not going to happen overnight. Fortunately, exercising regularly will naturally contribute to developing intrinsic motivation, as it increases the feel-good happy chemicals in your brain (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins). But, habits do take time, so here are three tips to increase your child’s motivation to exercise!
- Reward System
There are often mixed reactions to implementing a reward system. However, a reward system is not something to frown about when working on establishing a foundation for positive behaviors. Research has shown that children respond better to positive reinforcements than they do to negative reinforcements.
How to begin a behavior reinforcement plan:
- For children ages 7-12: Make a personalized goal tracker with your child. For example, if want your kid to do something physically active 3x a week, create a page with three boxes per week to check off after each workout (e.g., can use stickers, a drawing, a penny, etc.)
- For children 13 and older: they can often keep rack on their own, and independence is key for teenagers and young adults.
- Each workout = 1 point.
- It is up to you to decide how often a reward occurs and what the reward will be.
- Reward types: with your child’s help, create a list of 5 items/things that might be motivating to earn. For example, 30 minutes of a favorite show, a new toy or “surprise box,” staying up later one night a week, choice of a favorite meal for dinner, a new book, etc. The possibilities are endless!
- Each workout = 1 point.
- Social Opportunity
As an adult, performing 15 reps, 4x on one exercise is manageable. Our attention is longer. We enjoy isolation more. We have intrinsic motivation or tangible goals set for ourselves, like losing weight. However, children and young adults are heavily socially dependent with shorter attention spans. Their worlds thrive around social opportunities, So, make physical exercise a social experience. Workout with your child, put on a YouTube video and together and complete 30 minutes. Put on your child’s favorite music on in the background and encourage your child to work out for 20 minutes (set a timer). One time a week (or more) invite a friend or sibling, make it an event that can be done inside or outside, and make it fun.
- Bring back Play
Which brings us to our third tip: Bring back play! Even if you have a teenager or young adult, play is important to developing a positive attitude towards physical exercise. Play can consist of hiking with friends or family, trying a new activity in your community, and generally, reducing the strict structure around exercise that children and young adults often try to escape as they build independence and autonomy. A majority of the time, exercising can consist of structured exercises catered around a specific goal, however, a few times a month it’s important to switch it up and encourage exploring of physical exercise through unstructured (play) opportunities.