By: Christine Pagano MD, FAAP
Staying home more during the COVID-19 pandemic has left many families looking for new ways to get needed
exercise. Parents avoiding public spaces like gyms to limit exposure may have invested in fitness equipment to use at home. Sales of items such as treadmills and stationary bicycles have soared during the pandemic.
Working out at home can be a good way to stay fit during the pandemic and when the weather keeps you inside. But it's important to keep young children safe around home gym equipment. Treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines, and stationary bikes are big machines that pose big dangers to little kids. They can be sources of serious injuries and even death for little ones. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, there were nearly 21,000 children treated in emergency departments nationwide for injuries from home exercise equipment in 2019 alone.
How babies & young children can get hurt
These unintentional injuries can often be severe. Little hands that get caught under the moving belt of a treadmill or the rotating parts of a stationary bicycle can suffer from scrapes, friction burns, and even finger amputations. Falls from these moving machines can lead to head trauma, concussions, and broken bones.
A major exercise equipment maker recently reminded parents to protect children around its products after two tragedies affecting young children. In one incident
reported by the company, a 3-year-old boy was found trapped under a treadmill, not breathing and without a pulse. He was revived but now has serious brain injury. More recently, a child died after injuries involving one of its treadmills.
In addition to the equipment itself, power and heart rate monitor cords can pose a strangulation risk, one that famously resulted in the tragic death of boxer Mike Tyson's four-year-old daughter in 2009. Finally, weights accidentally dropped on small bodies can result in broken bones, internal organ damage, suffocation, and possibly death.
Take steps to help prevent injuries
Parents should consider the home exercise area as a place to keep childproofed through the toddler years and beyond. Key considerations to ensure children's safety include:
Young children need to be supervised at all times around home gym equipment. Exercise machines should not be set up in areas where children regularly play, such as the basement.
Treadmills, stationary bikes, and other workout machines should be unplugged when not in use.
Many exercise machines require a safety key in order to operate. When not in use, remove the safety key from the machine and keep it in a separate, secure location.
Consider installing a lock on the workout room itself, if possible.
About Dr. Pagano
Dr. Christine Pagano MD, FAAP, a primary care pediatrician in Northern New Jersey, is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Early Childhood.