The nation is seeing an increase in fighting among kids, and their parents are encouraging it. Already boasting a strong following among high school participants, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) classes have drawn more than 3 million children under the age of 13 across the country. While pro MMA organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship have given the sport a reputation for no-holds-barred blood baths, it's also gaining acceptance as an athletic discipline, spurred in great part by its preteen participants.
Classes do teach kids to hit, kick and grapple, at a level appropriate for their age, but they also offer many of the same benefits kids get from participating in any other sport. "It's not about fighting," says Jonathan Burke, owner of The VI Levels MMA gym in Ocoee, Fla. "It's about getting in great physical shape, improving your mental focus and discipline." Moreover, MMA, built in part on the principles of various martial arts disciplines, teaches kids how to defend themselves. "There's such a problem with kids being bullied these days," says Jake Brennan, an instructor at GymX in Waco, Texas. "MMA gives them that boost of confidence to know they're alright walking around school."
The boost of confidence may do more to prevent bullying than the actual defensive skills taught. "Bullies tend to pick on people who are victims," explains Chris Conolley, owner of Spartan Fitness in Hoover, Ala. "These kids carry themselves different, they have the confidence to deal with someone messing with them."
Even so, the classes are a comfort for parents, who know their children have been trained not just physically to be able to protect themselves but also given the mental discipline to discern when it is appropriate to do so. Among those who train at Burke's gym are the sons of MLB's Prince Fielder, who hopes to prevent them from becoming victims of bullying. "It happened to me as a kid, and it happens to them as well," says Fielder.
The sport is not without its risks, but no sport is. Concussions or other injuries are a concern, but perhaps the greatest objection is that children will use their skills in inappropriate ways.
"I can't guarantee they won't be a bully," says Burke, "but I can guarantee that the way we present the information, we're going to make bullying look so bad, they're going to be ashamed to be associated with that word."
How Much Exercise Is Enough? For 10 years, the American College of Sports Medicine has been trying to convince a sedentary public that exercise is medicine, as good for what ails us as over-the-counter or prescription pills. What began as a national campaign morphed into a global initiative, with the goal of getting physicians to prescribe exercise to their patients and suggest that they get "physical activity counseling." But although the association between exercise and health is widely accepted, there seems to be no consensus on how much physical activity we need for optimal health. The World Health Organization recommends 2½ hours a week. A study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year recommended five times that amount. And now there's recent research suggesting that people who exercise only on weekends can reap significant health benefits. While the studies seem contradictory, they have one thing in common: They conclude the more exercise you do, the healthier you'll be - up to a point. read more
Athletic Performance More Reliant on Practice than Age Some people might have given up exercise because they are "too old," while others are reluctant to begin it for the same reasons. The result is the same. If people have been sedentary for a few years, the body isn't going to function nearly as well as if they'd been practicing some kind of sport for that time. read more
Boxing Program Helps Parkinson's Patients The bag-punching Kearney is not a typical 69-year-old woman. She boxes to help fight the ravages of the incurable disease through the new, non-contact Rock Steady Boxing program offered at Memorial's SportsCare. Kearney joined the program when it became available earlier this year. read more
Workplace Wellness Initiatives Turn to Tech Wearable gadgets like Fitbits that track movement, teams that communicate via Facebook, coaching on nutrition and sessions that combine meditation with high-intensity-training are all part of the new wave of workplace wellness programs. read more