Getting teenagers to exercise can be a daunting task. After all, with the computer and Internet, television, video games and other sedentary temptations, the idea of getting up and moving around can be less than appealing. However, it is important for teens to exercise. The American Heart Association identifies physical inactivity as risk factor for several health problems (1):
- Coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure
- Low HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind)
Benefits of exercise
There are several benefits associated with teen exercise. Teens can build lean muscle and strong bones. Both of these will serve them well later in life as strong bones are less likely to fracture, and lean muscle burns calories at a higher rate than other muscles. This can lead to a healthier self-image, and a better life outlook. Additionally, teens that exercise experience better sleep, enabling them to better cope with daily challenges, both mental and physical (2). Establishing healthy habits prior to adulthood increases the chances of carrying them through life. Teen exercise lays the foundation for future health.
Getting your teen to exercise
There are plenty of fun activities to participate in, without having to use the dreaded word "exercise." In fact, many activities do not even seem like exercise. The important thing is to introduce ideas that are fun, as well as moderately intense. Getting the whole family involved is a good way to encourage physical activity. After all, if mom and dad simply sit at home, doing nothing, what incentive is there for teens to go out and get exercise?
Here some family-oriented exercise activities, recommended by the Mayo Clinic, that do not require special skill (3):
- Walking the dog
- Bike riding around the neighborhood
- Tending a garden (if you don't have space for your own, get a plot in the community garden)
- Nature hikes
- Swimming at the local pool
- Visiting a climbing wall
- Parking farther from stores
- Taking stairs instead of elevators
Of course, organized sports offer excellent opportunities for teens to exercise, and many of them enjoy the activities. If your teen is interested in organized sports, be supportive of his or her interest. However, you should make sure that practices are not overly long, cutting into family time, and that the teen is physically able to participate in the rigors of organized sports.
Note that teen organized sports need not be only through the school. Many city recreation departments offer leagues for a variety of sports. Additionally, you can encourage teens to participate in neighborhood games; organized sports are not even necessary for physical activity.
Keeping it fun
If exercise becomes something of a chore, this will only discourage teens from participating. According to the Mayo clinic, exercise should never be a form of discipline (3). It is important not to push teens beyond their endurance, and to avoid making winning the primary object. While congratulations are in order when performance warrants it, winning should not be the main reason teens participate in physical activity. Teens will enjoy exercise much more without the added pressure.