Part of my job as a pediatric physical therapist is to try to make exercises and the rehabilitation process fun for kids. Most of the physical performance measurements we use during therapy including jumping, running, and stair climbing as tools of assessment. But, I get just as excited when one of my clients learns to hula hoop for the first time, and here is why: hula hooping is a great exercise for kids!
The benefits of hula hooping for kids:
- Coordination – At as young as 5 years of age, children are able to break down major tasks that require coordination of every part of their body doing different motions, such as bicycling, jump roping, and hula hooping. What makes hula hooping challenging is that in order to be successful at the task, kids have to separate their trunk movements from their limbs, maintain a stable balance, and incorporate flexibility in their motions at the same time.
- Core strength – Performing the hula hip motion while keeping the hoop up at the trunk requires abdominal, oblique, and upper back muscle recruitment. These are big core muscles that we all need to stand and sit upright. Keeping the trunk muscles strong will help with posture, endurance, and total body coordination.
- Endurance – Physical fitness is so important in children and adolescence. Health-related fitness is undeniably multidimensional. Endurance itself has many components: cardiovascular, muscular, and mental. While a typically developing school-aged child should be able to remain active and play for at least 30 minutes without need for rest, so few kids these days get a chance to build on their active time outside of school. So many kids I meet can barely play for 5 minutes without being short of breath, needing to sit down, or getting frustrated by a tough physical task.
- Flexibility – In order to successfully keep a hula hoop up off the ground, flexibility is just as important as strength. Many kids who don’t get enough regular exercise are often stiff and uncoordinated. There’s a reason why flexibility is often on fitness tests given in schools. Parents and teachers sometimes forget flexibility is an important aspect of physical fitness. In order to ensure proper musculoskeletal development, flexibility is key. Hula hooping teaches children how to purposefully wiggle their hips, separate their two sides, gain range of motion in all their big joints, and have fun at the same time.
- Attention – As anyone who tries to pick up a new task knows, learning a new activity takes practice and focus. Young children who are learning something as different and challenging as the hula hoop are honing not just their physical skills but their mental fortitude as well. A task that requires coordinated movements of every part of the body requires lots of repetition to master. Having the attention and motivation to master a new physical activity will help with improved attention for school-related tasks.
- Confidence – Hula hooping offers many ways to expand a child’s skills set, such as moving the hula hoop up the body, performing while standing on one foot, etc. Mastery of each new skill offers children the chance to feel pride in themselves. I’ve seen children’s programs and dance competitions dedicated to hula hooping, and not a single child could stay bored or frustrated with this amusing task. There are organizations out there dedicated to introducing hula hooping to children. Nothing boosts a young child’s confidence like being able to show off new found hula hoop skills in front of her parents and friends. I have even used hula hoops as an introduction to jump rope skills.
One recent study found that today’s children are less physically fit than their parents and their endurance is on the decline. There’s a way to combat this slow onset of sedentary lifestyle for kids who aren’t so into team sports or outdoor activities. Tons of toys are out there to make physical activities seem fun, unique, and not in the least bit boring for young minds. Hula hoops are just one of many that physical therapists love to use, in order to bring out the best in little growing bodies.