The startling reality of children's treadmill tragedies: 9 ways to prevent home exercise accidents in your home

I intended to write about Mike Tyson's daughter, 4-year-old Exodus, yesterday. I meant to cover the story as the small child was still in "very critical" condition in a hospital yesterday following a treadmill accident.

But I just sat and stared at the article on my screen about how the little girl was playing on the treadmill and somehow got strangled by a cord on the machine. Perhaps I hesitated because I have a child the same age. Or maybe it was because, when we lived with his personal trainer father, our home was cluttered with all kinds of fitness equipment and gear that felt like a minefield for a kid learning to walk, then run, them climb. It also could have been that tragedies like these, born out of a simple accident, out of a child just being a curious and active child, are so sad and scary and real.

For one or all of these reasons, I paused before writing about Exodus Tyson. And in that time, she died.

The daughter of heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson was first found by her brother, who is only 7-years old himself, on Monday. It is reported that she was wrapped in the cord and already unconscious. The boy called his mother, who in turn called 911 and performed CPR. The police say Exodus needed life support by the time they arrived.

Mike Tyson, in Las Vegas at the time, returned to their home city of Phoenix to be with his daughter and family. On Tuesday morning, the little girl was pronounced dead. A thorough investigation was conducted, police have told the press, and "it appears that this is nothing except a horrible tragedy."

There's no doubt that Exodus Tyson's death is a horrible tragedy, nor that the 1,000 other children under the age of 14 who die from strangulation accidents each year are awful and probably preventable tragedies.

Also upsetting is that an estimated 25,000 children under the age of 14 are injured treadmills, stationary bikes, and stair climbers each year, according to The Consumer Product Safety Commission.

According to the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association,home treadmills "pose a specific hazard to infants and children aged 5 years or younger." Children in this age category, one study showed, were most likely to get abrasions or contusions to the forearm, wrist, hand, or fingers. However, researchers say that more complicated injuries -- as we now see in the case of Mike Tyson's daughter -- have happened and they call for more safety guidelines to be established and preventative measures to be taken when treadmills are placed in homes.

A more recent study published in the Journal for Pediatric Surgery showed that the number of pediatric injuries on treadmills is increasing at a rate researchers deem a public health issue. This study included children who had been burned or otherwise injured, aged 8 months to 12 years, and it struck me that the median age of pediatric patients treated was only 2.8 years old. The authors, in a tone similar to the aforementioned study, conclude, "Adult supervision is paramount, and prevention strategies should include child safety features in equipment designs."

Consumer Reports offers helpful tips for preventing a home exercise equipment tragedy where you live, including good reminders to:

  • Keep your child away from treadmills and other exercise equipment when in use.

  • When your treadmill or other equipment is not being used, be sure to unplug it and lock it up. Consumer Reports advises that, if you cannot lock it up, surround the machine with a child safety gate.

  • Do not allow a child to be around equipment unsupervised at any time.

  • Remove the safety clip, the emergency pull that clips to the user's clothing and automatically shuts off the machine in case of a fall, when the machine is not in use. Consumer Reports notes that many treadmills and other machines will not start without the safety clip in place, so removing it also prevents a child from starting equipment without adult supervision.

  • Consider purchasing or adding safety locks to your home exercise equipment.

I would also add that this is a good time to:

  • Clean up all dumbbells, weights, jump ropes, medicine balls, exercise balls, and other gear that is on the floor or accessible to small children. Put them away so that children cannot get to them and so they are not obstacles for children.

  • Dig out the cover that came with your treadmill or purchase one that will discourage or make it harder for your child to play on the machine. It may seem like a pain to take it off and put it on each time you work out, but the added layer could be one more simple way to help prevent an accident.

  • Be active as a family so that there is plenty of adult supervision for children and so you are modeling safe ways to exercise and feel good all together.

  • Stop using your treadmill or other exercise machines as a chair, clothes hanger, or anything else other than what it is. Show your kids with your own behaviors that this equipment can help us take care of our bodies and requires a serious commitment to safety by everyone in the family.

What other home exercise equipment safety tips do you have to offer?

[photo credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images Entertainment]