COLUMBUS, Ohio – As millions of children prepare to return to school and to their favorite sports, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center suggest parents encourage youngsters to consider more than one activity to avoid injuries and, surprisingly, unwanted weight gain.
While many kids choose to play only one sport in hopes of gaining an edge on the competition and improving their chances of future success, Tim Hewett, director of research at Ohio State University Sports Medicine, said that strategy comes with the risk of negative long-term effects.
“You could call it the Tiger Woods syndrome,” Hewett said. “Young athletes feel like they have to play a single sport and they have to play it year round.”
After following more than 500 athletes for more than a decade, Hewett and his Ohio State team found that single-sport athletes had a 50 percent higher risk of knee injury. He said part of the problem is repetition -- doing the same motions year after year can wear out bones and joints.
In addition, if a one-sport athlete did suffer a knee injury, they were also more likely to struggle with weight gain, often for years. In the case of young girls who play one sport and injure a knee, the study (funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the British Journal of Medicine in May) found that their risk of long-term obesity increases 33 percent.
“Even when we follow them over multiple years, they tend to retain the weight gain,” Hewett said.
He recommends playing more than one sport to help build core strength and balance several muscle groups. This prevents the same muscles from being used consistently more than others.
“A diversity of activity is going to promote balance within your neuromuscular system,” Hewett said. “You’re going to be able to be proficient and excel at multiple tasks.”