It turns out that many parents are quite concerned that if their children take up karate, they’re going to stunt their growth! We can completely understand why you would be concerned if you heard this and we’d like to take some time to reassure you about the reality. So does learning karate affect height?
Karate does not affect height, according to current scientific literature. There are many factors which can negatively affect a child’s height during the developmental phases but undertaking martial arts training is not one of them. Karate may even help your child become taller.
Let’s take a look at what the truth is about this peculiar myth.
Does Learning Karate Make You Shorter?
As we have already said, learning karate does not make you shorter. We’re at a bit of a loss as to the origin of this fairly common myth. We’ve found the issue has been raised in societies from America to India and even some East Asians appear to believe it.
We did come across an interesting fact in that there was some discussion that in striking sports, it might be a good idea to replace the weight classes with height classes. After all, it might be that a large difference in reach could easily compensate for extra weight to put behind a blow.
What the study concluded was “more research needed” and ended with a nod to the idea that if children weren’t watching what they eat in order to effectively compete in karate – they might be less likely to develop eating disorders. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to have been any follow up studies to this, as yet.
What we can prove is that Bonghan Lee and Kijin Kim studied the effect on children’s growth of a similar martial art, Taekwondo, and they found no impact at all from regularly practicing a martial art on someone’s height. This is what we’d expect.
This is because there are factors which affect how tall a child will become and these are:
6 Factors Which Really Do Affect A Child’s Height
Genetics: Your Initial Hand
There’s a good reason that somebody with short parents is much more likely to be short than someone with tall parents – it’s the fact that 60-80% of our final height is dictated by our genetics.
Now, it’s important to realize that nobody can control their genetics. Your parents made that decision for you before you were even born and even they weren’t consciously aware of this (unless they were evolutionary biologists).
No amount of karate can have any impact on this either. It’s not possible to karate chop some DNA out and replace it with new DNA. Which is a shame because it would be a great way for Karate Dojos to raise some extra funds.
Most of us, from an age of about 1 until we reach puberty, grow at an approximate annual rate of 2 inches.
When puberty begins – this rate doubles to a rate of 4 inches a year.
Once puberty stops, so does the growing. This is why (unless you want to pay for very costly and painful surgery) adults can’t change their height.
A Balanced Diet
If you had visited China in the 1950s and returned today, you would be shocked to see an incredible transformation in the population – so many Chinese people are now nearly as tall as their Western counterparts whereas back in the 1950s, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that all Chinese people were genetically short.
Most of the rest of our maximum height potential (other than the genetic bit) is based on what we eat. The best way to ensure that your child doesn’t “shrink” is to feed them a good quality balanced diet.
That is a diet that contains:
- Fruit (ideally fresh)
- Vegetables (also best fresh but frozen can sometimes be as good)
- Grains (particularly whole grains)
- Proteins (the building blocks of muscle)
- Dairy (calcium which is plentiful in dairy is a key component of bone growth)
It’s a good idea to avoid:
- Sugar – there’s a huge and growing body of evidence that any food with large amounts of sugar can cause severe health problems in the long run
- Trans fats – these are, mainly, artificially produced and are massively calorific when compared to animal and plant fats
- Saturated fats – these are the most calorific and unhealthy natural fats
It’s also important to recognize the role that Vitamin D plays in the growth of bones. Tuna, egg yolks, etc. can all be good sources of Vitamin D.
It was an improvement in diet not genetics which led to the Chinese “growth spurt” in a few short decades.
It is rare but possible that you might need a supplement of vitamins and/or minerals to reach your optimal height.
If this is the case, it’s likely that your medical professional has already advised you of what you need to do.
Taking supplements when they are not needed is not a cure for shortness and it may well be detrimental to your health in the long term.
A Good Night’s Sleep
The human body shrinks across the course of a waking day. Yet, when we sleep, we become taller – because the body produces “Human Growth Hormone” (HGH) while we are fast asleep.
Children need more sleep than adults and very young children may need up to 14-17 hours of sleep. Even a teenager needs 8-10 hours whereas a grown adult can get by on 7-9 hours and senior citizens can get away with less sleep still.
It’s also worth noting that the better someone sleeps, the more healthy they are likely to be in general.
Children, and particularly teenagers, tend to slouch and stumble about the place. This doesn’t make them shorter, mind you, but it does have the effect of making them appear shorter.
It can be worth talking to a doctor about how to achieve “perfect posture” which maximizes not just how tall you appear but also prevents back problems in later life.
Exercise – Why Karate Might Make You Taller
We save the best evidence until last – regular exercise has been shown to stimulate the production of human growth hormone in the body. That means a child who conducts regular exercise – in conjunction with paying attention to the 5 other areas highlighted above – is not likely to shrink but in fact, is likely to help them reach their maximum potential height.
Some Benefits Of Karate and Martial Arts For Children
OK, now that we’ve found that taking karate lessons won’t stunt a child’s growth and will, factually, help them attain their maximum height. Let’s take a quick look at other benefits that kids can reap from martial arts training:
- Self-esteem. Many sports are team oriented and while it’s important to work in teams in life, it’s also important to grow as an individual. The self-reliant nature of karate can help build self-esteem.
- Goal setting. From new belts to new moves, there are always goals to work toward when practicing martial arts. This is a fabulously useful skill to have when you get into working life and higher-education.
- Self- control and concentration. Martial arts are not, contrary to what some people believe, all about beating people up. Quite the opposite, in fact, the ideal is to avoid fighting except when necessary. Boosting a child’s attention span might be the biggest favor you can do for them and martial arts are all about staying aware.
- Better physical coordination. Being a kid can make the best person clumsy and awkward because their body is always changing shape, but a martial art can help offset this by teaching a child balance and coordination.
- Better general discipline. Karate and other forms of instruction for martial arts is very deeply structured. Structure gives kids a sense of reassurance and faith in the system – it develops a strong sense of patience in many kids.
- They burn off excess energy. Working out in karate helps a child get rid of all that energy they build up sitting around during the school day.
- They get rid of anger and frustration. Throwing punches and kicks in a controlled situation can help a child get rid of their stress and make them much less likely to get into trouble because of their temper in other situations.
- They gain acceptance. Everyone in a dojo must show respect to everyone else in that dojo. The environment is supportive and kind. This can do wonders for a child who feels like an outsider.
- They gain street cred. There’s nothing cooler than a ninja, right? Well, karate isn’t ninja skills but it’s close enough that it’s still seen as awesome by other kids.
Does karate affect height? No, not really. It may help with the production of HGH in the body and thus allow a child to reach their maximum height, but it certainly won’t make a child shorter. Genetics, diet, supplements, sleep and posture all have more important roles to play in someone’s height.