Pros and Cons of Gymnastics

Toddler girl in leotard doing a bridge

Gymnastics offers significant health benefits, even improving problem-solving skills. It improves bone density, flexibility, strength and coordination. Additionally, it can reduce stress. However, gymnastics also poses the risk of increased injury and adds pressure to remain thin. Before beginning gymnastics, or enrolling your child in the sport, weigh the pros and cons of gymnastics. If you choose to practice gymnastics, make sure to check the equipment and mats prior to starting any activities, thus decreasing the risk of injury.

Overall Benefits

Gymnastics offers a variety of benefits for the body and the mind. According to USA Gymnastics national safety instructor Michael A. Taylor and the University of Florida, children who participate in organized gymnastics classes have better problem-solving skills and longer attention spans than those who do not. For adults and teens, gymnastics increases coordination, flexibility and strength as well as reduces stress.

Skeletal Benefits

Elite female gymnasts who have been retired for six years or less and continue to exercise for two hours a week experience skeletal benefits compared to women in the general population, according to a study by Deakin University in Australia and published in the December 2009 issue of the “Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.” The gymnasts had significantly greater bone density of the radius, humerus, femur and tibia than the nongymnasts. They also had larger forearm and upper-arm muscles.

Injury Risk

Sustaining an injury is one of the cons of participating in acrobatic gymnastics, and participants between the ages of 11 and 15 are the most vulnerable, according to a study from the University of Sydney and published in the May 2010 issue of the journal “Physical Therapy in Sport.” In acrobatic gymnastics, the participants perform in pairs. Data from 73 surveys of acrobatic gymnasts found 50.7 percent experienced a gymnastics-related injury in the past year and 28.8 were afflicted with a chronic injury at the time of the study. Predominant injury sites were the knee, ankle and wrist. Risk factors increased if the gymnasts were age 13 or older, and if gymnasts trained eight or more hours a week at age 11.Gymnastics is one of the sports with the highest injury rates for girls, according to a study by Ohio State University and published in the April 2008 issue of “Pediatrics.” Between 1990 and 2005, about 425,900 boys and girls between ages 6 and 17 were treated in emergency rooms for gymnastics-related injuries in the United States. The likelihood of being injured while doing gymnastics is 4.8 percent per thousand gymnasts and those between the ages of 12 and 17 had the highest rate of injury at 7.4 percent per 1,000 gymnasts.

Pressure to Diet and Eating Disorders

Extreme dieting can be a serious hazard to young girls and the pressure to stay small in gymnastics can lead to eating disorders and stunted growth. It can also have lasting, psychological affects on preteen and teen girls. In a NCAA study performed among gymnastics programs, 51% reported team members with eating disorders.