Stories about: Female Athlete Program

Can sports make kids smarter?

Was Thomas Jefferson on to something when he quipped, “A strong body makes the mind strong?” It appears so, according to a study of nearly 5,000 British teens. Researchers tracked physical activity and standardized test performance at ages 11, 13 and 16. Overall, kids who were more active achieved higher test scores in English, math and science.

Interestingly, as parents, educators and policymakers lament the lack of women in science, the results indicated a strong link between physical activity and science scores for girls.

The researchers, whose study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, aren’t sure why kids who spent more time sweating outperformed their couch potato peers on academic measures, but suggested that physical activity might increase time on task and curb problem behavior in the classroom.

Kathryn Ackerman, MD, MPH, co-director of the Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Sports Medicine Division, adds another possibility: The structure of sports carries over into other aspects of kids’ lives. Athletic discipline makes for academic discipline.

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The race against the female athlete triad

Laura on the track

It’s a common belief among female runners: The lighter you are, the faster you are. It’s also believed that menstrual irregularities, or loss of periods, are a healthy part of competitive training. Neither is true.

That’s precisely what Laura Duff, a senior at Colby College and an avid runner, wishes she knew when she was in high school.

It was during the summer before Laura’s senior year of high school that she became more aware of how she looked. “I don’t know what switched,” she says, “I just became very aware, and started to restrict my eating and be more controlling.”

“I wish I could tell my high school self that worrying about your body isn’t worth it”

While part of her diet was intentional, another part was simply due to the structure of high school. Long days of classes and cross-country practice with little scheduled time for snacks and lunch made it hard to focus on getting enough calories. Soon, her weight started to drop.

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Want to run the Boston Marathon one day? Play it safe with your health, ladies

If running a marathon were easy, we’d all be doing it. In reality, it takes incredible mental endurance and physical dedication paired with a strong desire to succeed. But if you really want to go the distance, don’t put your body at risk by overtraining.

Female athletes, especially those who participate in sports that emphasize being lean—like running—can be susceptible to the female athlete triad, an interrelationship of bone health, menstrual cycle and energy availability (caloric balance and nourishment).

Most of the time, female athletes get enough quality calories to maintain healthy energy availability, normal monthly menstrual cycles and healthy bone density. However, some runners, who might feel pressure to be as lean as possible, take in fewer calories than their body requires. This can result in irregular (or loss of) periods and changes in hormones, which can lead to low bone density and an increase in fractures and osteoporosis.

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Beating the odds: After three knee injuries, a female athlete triumphs

Krista

There is a special kind of female athlete who is so dedicated that her sport becomes her life. Because research shows that girls and women are prone to higher rates of injuries and other health complications, these female athletes require a level of dedication not only to their sports, but also to their long-term health. And by pairing the two, they prevail.

For Krista Pinciaro, soccer player at Medfield High School, dedication to the sport came naturally. But when she tore her medial meniscus and re-tore her lateral meniscus (after tearing both her meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) years before), she knew her senior-year soccer season was at stake.

“It was one of the worst days of my life,” says Krista. “Soccer isn’t just a sport to me, it’s my everything. It made me feel like I belonged to something, and it made me succeed academically because I knew I had to in order to keep playing. My teammates and my coaches were all like members of my family. Not playing was devastating for me.”

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