Striking the perfect balance – why mountain biking is so good for your child's health
Katrin Kollegger is a general practitioner and occupational therapist with two children of her own. In this woom blog post, she tells us why mountain biking is so good for your child's health and development.
Dr Katrin Kollegger is all in favour of mountain biking adventures across all terrains – and she's a big fan of woom bikes.
Katrin Kollegger is more than familiar with the impact of a western lifestyle, a lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet. She sees it at her practice day in, day out. The general practitioner from Vienna has been examining and treating people of all ages for many years now, so she's well versed in the challenges people face during the different seasons of their lives. She's helped us put together this list of the top reasons that make mountain biking such a fantastic activity offering a whole host of mental and physical health benefits for kids.
1. Start them young: mountain biking sets kids up for an active lifestyle
The foundations for an active lifestyle are laid during childhood. And yet the number of children in developed countries who get enough exercise and eat a nutritious diet is dwindling. According to the World Health Organization, bad habits like eating unhealthily and not doing enough physical activity combined with a general ignorance about the long-term effects are to blame for the rise in chronic illnesses and health problems. Katrin Kollegger explains:
"An increasingly sedentary lifestyle combined with an overabundance of calorie-rich foods is causing so many children to weigh more than we would expect for children their age. Children who suffer from weight problems at an early age often end up being overweight as adults too, which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease."
An early intro to sport boosts the chances that children will grow up living an active and healthy lifestyle that will see them through their adult years.
And it's so much easier to get started when you're a child than when you're an adult.
For example, children aged between eight and ten can pick up motor skills with incredible ease. And that puts them in a strong position to get used to new physical activities like cycling, ball games and swimming.
Children have an innate urge to move. And they sure do love a challenge:
"Mountain biking is the perfect option because it's a challenging and varied sport that kids can enjoy with their friends outdoors whatever level they're at."
First and foremost, mountain biking should be an activity that kids enjoy. The more you can incorporate the fun factor into your bike rides, the faster your child will fall in love with mountain biking. >> Check out our top tips here!
2. Mountain biking is a brilliant way to bond
Mountain biking is a sport you can enjoy together as a family. Once your child has built up their fitness, stamina and cycling skills, they'll no doubt be able to keep up with their older siblings.
It can be really difficult to find a family sport that works for everyone – especially if there's quite a big age gap between your children. But once your youngest child is ready for mountain biking, a whole world of adventure opens up to you all.
Mountain biking is a great way to spend time together as a family:
"Those big moments we share – the kind we experience when doing sport – bring us together and create a sense of unity," explains Katrin Kollegger. "That provides the basis for meaningful time spent with friends and family. That's how bonds are formed and strengthened."
Talking of family time...
Just imagine the adventures you could have on a mountain biking holiday with the kids. If you're wondering how old your child needs to be for this to be an option and how you might go about planning it, the experts from woom and the Austrian National Tourist Office have the answers you need right here >>
3. Mountain biking strengthens the back, muscles and joints
Children often spend too much time sitting down these days. There are lots of reasons for this. For one thing, children have a lot less free time once they've started school. After that point, their daily routine revolves around sedentary activities.
And screen time has a lot to answer for too. But what's the impact? There may be changes in muscle strength and tension, which can cause poor posture and even pain in the long term.
In her work as an occupational therapist, Katrin Kollegger sees one particular phenomenon all the time: We often stay in the same position for hours on end and repeat the same movements too, which results in muscle imbalance.
But mountain biking can counteract these negative effects because it gives your child a chance to really let off steam, which has a positive impact on their fitness and muscles.
The biceps and triceps in the upper arm need to be engaged and working in tandem to cushion the bumps when cycling over uneven terrain. Every pedal stroke strengthens the glutes and leg muscles. And the deep back muscles along the spine are given a real workout, which is essential for core stability. Just remember that:
"Strong muscles protect the joints and spine against injury. And the best bit of all is that it doesn't feel like you're struggling through an intense workout because the focus is always on the fun factor."
>> Read more about the benefits of cycling for your child's back here.
4. Mountain biking is good for the bones
Bone tissue is constantly remodelling. As children grow, their bone mass increases and doesn't reach its peak until they're in their 20s. All physical activity stimulates the function of the bone cells, with high-impact sports bringing the most benefits. Think handball, football and tennis.
"Mountain biking on off-road terrain means a lot of impact on the body, which can have a positive effect on the bones."
5. Mountain biking helps you breathe easy
The humid air in a forest is virtually free from particulates and pollutants. As your child cycles through the woodland, they'll be breathing in a fresh and fragrant blend of essential oils, resin and sap.
Forest trails are a firm favourite with mountain biking kids, who can breathe the clean and healthy air deep into their lungs.
"Our airways are lined with tiny hair-like structures called cilia, which remove mucus and any other unwanted substances from the lungs. This means that kids are also working their lungs when they're out mountain biking. And that's going to make them less susceptible to infections."
6. Mountain biking is an alternative to screen time
There are so many sources of stimulation for kids these days. Digital media is a force to be reckoned with. Children's brains have to process all the information they're bombarded with so they can react.
If your child is going to be able to contextualise and store the new things they learn, it's so important that they have some downtime and alternative activities on offer.
Katrin Kollegger recommends:
"In a forest setting, there's a natural sense of order and quiet calm, which lets the parasympathetic nervous system* take over so the body can rest and relax."
Mountain biking is also an activity that gives your child a chance to be in the moment and focus all their attention on themselves, their bike and the route in front of them.
"The rhythm of the pedals helps balance the body and mind and relieve tension."
Your child can always stop for a rest and take a moment to appreciate the nature around them. They might be able to find some pretty flowers and spot some wild animals.
* The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the vegetative nervous system, which controls unconscious processes in our body. This system controls the muscles in all our organs, which means it regulates vital bodily functions like our heartbeat, breathing, circulation, metabolism and digestion.
7. Mountain biking is liberating
Children are learning new things every day. They develop quickly and are highly adaptable. As a parent, you need to accept that your child can do a lot of things independently even when they're still very young. The earlier your child learns how to overcome the big and small challenges life throws at them on their own, the better equipped they will be to deal with stress.
Sport tends to be an effective way of balancing out the everyday challenges children have to deal with at school and elsewhere. And the added benefits of mountain biking?
- Your child will be exercising in the great outdoors and getting lots of lovely fresh air too.
- Your child can cover impressive distances, which allows them to discover new things and explore new places.
- When they feel the wind in their hair, they'll feel an incredible sense of freedom and adventure.
The combination of physical activity and exposure to nature will help your child to clear their head and escape from reality for a while. They can recover and rest but end up feeling the right sort of tired.
"When children are going through hormonal changes during puberty, they're in a critical phase of their development. Mountain biking can help release some of the tension in their body and relieve stress. If you exercise regularly, you'll know that happy, carefree feeling that follows a workout. All your worries and negative thoughts seem to disappear for a while."
8. Mountain biking is good for the eyes
We're all guilty of spending too long staring at screens these days. If your child sits in front of a tablet or smartphone for hours on end each day, it won't be doing their eyes any good.
Katrin Kollegger has noticed that staring at screens up close and not getting enough natural light is causing more and more young people to have vision problems.
The general practitioner offers some advice here:
"These negative effects can be balanced out by getting plenty of natural light and looking into the distance to aid normal development. Your child's eyes can relax when they're mountain biking, which can stop vision problems developing."
Did you know? Vitamin D boosts your immune system. And your body can produce its own if your skin is exposed to enough sunlight.
9. Mountain biking improves physical awareness and reactions
Mountain biking builds focus and concentration. And a sense of balance, coordination and agility.
When they're out on their mountain bike, your child has to constantly look ahead and use their entire body. And, of course, they have to be ready to react quickly so they can dodge obstacles and safely handle sudden descents.
These skills are critical in sport but also in life:
"Children who have developed these skills are more in control of their body and able to react to the unexpected at a faster pace in life in general. This means they're in a better position to avoid accidents and reduce their risk of getting injured."
10. Mountain biking boosts self-esteem
Teenagers start to care more and more about their appearance and body image becomes a bigger issue. Sports like mountain biking can help your child feel positive about their growing body and comfortable in their own skin.
Young people who do sport learn how to overcome their fears and acknowledge and even celebrate their little wins. Tackling that first flow trail or jumping over a root for the first time are important mountain biking milestones that will boost your child's confidence. Katrin Kollegger confirms:
"Mountain biking helps children to get to know their own body and pick up on their own strengths and weaknesses. A strong body and a healthy body image work wonders on a child's confidence levels. As you can tell, sport has a positive impact on mental health as well as physical health."
Katrin Kollegger works as a general practitioner and occupational therapist in Vienna.
Regular activity and exercise are very important to her, and she tries to model this in her daily routine and in talks with her children.