Regular exercise is important to teenagers because it helps maintain their physical and mental health, and can set a pattern of positive lifestyle habits as they move toward adulthood.
Ideally, teens should strive for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, and spend less time being sedentary and more time moving.
Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 50 percent of teens and tweens (ages 12 – 21), have no regular exercise routine and are spending more time in sedentary pursuits. In a study published in Preventive Medicine, the analysis of data from The National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys from 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 indicates rates of exercise are declining for teens, and many 19 year olds spent as much time being inactive as 60 year olds.
Technology. Computers, TVs, video games, smart phones and other electronic devices are a huge factor affecting teenagers’ level of inactivity. For many of our kids, time in front of a screen on social media, checking out the latest viral video or Skyping has replaced walking to a friend’s house to hang out and video games have replaced neighborhood pick up games.
The demise of PE. The decrease in the amount of physical education time in schools also contributes to less teen exercise. Only about 19% of teens in high school participate in a PE class lasting at least 20 minutes. If that’s the only time a teen is active, it is not enough to meet the recommended hour of moderate to vigorous exercise each day.
Insufficient sleep. To function their best, teens should get 9 – 9 ½ hours of sleep a night, but most get around 7 (or less). It’s reasonable to assume that the lack of ample sleep has a residual effect, leaving teens too pooped to be physically active.
Lack of time. For kids in school, there is a limited window of time for exercise – before school, after school, after dinner? When you add into the mix homework, a part time job, and extracurricular activities there isn’t much time left for exercise.
Well-Being spoke with Kira Berch, MS, ATC, LAT, athletic trainer at Mississippi Sports Medicine about some of the reasons why exercise is so fundamental for all young people, including teens and tweens.
Improved Physical Health
Teens need regular exercise for strong muscles and bones, fewer health problems, reduced risk of obesity and better mental health. Aerobic exercise, in particular, increases the heart and breathing rate, strengthens the heart muscle and improves oxygen delivery to all body parts. Good aerobic fitness boosts energy levels and allows teens to stay physically active for longer periods without fatigue. It also enables them to respond to unexpected physical demands such as running for a bus or climbing stairs. Examples of activities that provide a good aerobic workout, as a member of a team or individually, include hockey, soccer, paddling (canoeing and kayaking), basketball, tennis, hiking, dancing, aerobics, brisk walking, swimming, running and biking.
“Adolescents do not have to participate in team sports, they can also gain so much from single competitive event activities like 5K races and golf,” Ms. Berch explains. “By being around others in team or single sports, young people learn social skills that cannot always be addressed in the classroom or by a parent. Teens involved in physical activity around others are better prepared for life as they learn to handle conflicts, improve motivation, and develop critical thinking skills.”
Strength training exercises such as pushups, pull-ups, squats, leg raises and crunches increase muscle mass and help build strong arm, leg and stomach muscles. Strong muscles help protect the joints and prevent injury. Muscle also uses more calories than fat when the body is at rest and helps maintain a healthy weight.
According to Berch, “Studies show that typical teens who participate in multiple sports develop the ability to improve performance skills and gain confidence that serves to improve their performance across several sports. For example a football player who runs track can improve his footwork and hand-eye coordination. Confidence also grows with being involved in activities year round.”
Exercising burns calories, helping teens avoid weight gain and develop lean, toned bodies and a more positive self-image. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk of diseases such as type II diabetes and high blood pressure, which are becoming more prevalent among teens.
Physical exercise encourages the body’s production of endorphins, chemicals that improve mood. Exercise reduces the risk of depression, increases self-esteem, builds self-confidence and promotes restful sleep. It also enhances thinking and learning skills and may improve school performance.
Ms. Berch notes, “Exercise increases blood flow, and blood flow brings high levels of oxygen and energy to the brain to process new information and improve thinking. In turn this helps keep teens from zoning out and can improve test scores.”
According to the CDC, an hour of exercise each day is recommended for teens, but taking part in just 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic and strength-training exercise just three to five times a week can improve mental health and sharpen learning skills.
If teenagers can discover physical activities they enjoy, they are more likely to exercise on a regular basis and continue exercising into adulthood. Parents can encourage teenagers to exercise regularly by setting a good example and being more active themselves. They can also help teens learn to manage their time and make a priority of scheduling ample time for physical activity. Motivation is key to staying fit at any age.
“When we as parents practice what we preach, our teens are much more likely to get the message about exercise. Better yet, when we spend time being active with our kids, we’re not only setting the right example, we’re combining time to be active with time spent together. When a family has the right attitude towards exercise everyone wins,” adds Berch.