By Steven Soriano, DO, Pediatric Medical Director
Today’s teens might be missing out on the important health benefits of exercise, including a stronger heart and better mental health.
According to statistics from the American Heart Association, three out of every four teens aren’t getting the recommended one hour of physical activity each day. Experts say the explosion of smartphones and increased screentime among children and teens is part of the issue, while others point to declining physical education programs in schools.
However, there’s plenty parents can do to encourage a more active lifestyle for adolescents.
Benefits of exercise for teens
Consistent physical activity builds endurance and improves bone and muscle strength, as well as aerobic fitness. In addition, it can help teens maintain a healthy weight and lead to improved sleep – both critical factors as teens grow and develop.
In terms of mental health gains, exercise releases stress-busting endorphins and lowers the body’s production of stress hormones. When kids are getting enough physical activity, it helps improve thinking and memory skills. It also reduces the risk of depression, and helps teens feel more energetic overall. In fact, a recent study in The Lancet Psychiatry found that 12-year-olds who got 60 minutes of exercise each day had an average 10 percent reduction in depression at age 18.
One hour a day goes a long way
Federal guidelines recommend children and teens ages 6 to 17 get at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity each day.
Exercise should include:
- Aerobic activities with ongoing rhythmic movement, such as swimming, bicycling, dancing, etc.
- Muscle strengthening activities that make muscles do more work, such as using playground equipment or climbing.
- Bone strengthening activities that put a force on the body, such as running, basketball, tennis, etc.
If your teen plays team sports, they’re probably meeting those guidelines on practice days. But if they are in the offseason or don’t usually participate in sports, they may need a little nudge from you to fit in exercise or physical activity each week.
Here are some ways to keep your teens active and healthy.
1. Stay active yourself
You are your teen’s best role model. If you don’t want them spending most of their free time looking at screens, make sure you show them by example the importance of making exercise a priority and stay active yourself.
Talk about how great you feel after exercising. You might involve them to plan active vacations, evening walks as a family, or regular workouts together at home.
2. Make it fun
Exercise doesn’t have to be boring. Work with your teens to find something active that they enjoy. Perhaps tie physical activity into something they love.
If they enjoy art, for example, have them explore a local nature trail for inspiration for a painting. Encourage a book lover to bike to the library or a local bookstore for their next read.
Exercising with friends – being it playing a game of pickup basketball with neighbors or walking to the local pool for an afternoon of fun together – can also help teens incorporate some socialization into physical activity, motivating them to keep it up. Focusing on the fun aspect of exercise can help teens view it as something to look forward to rather than something they dread.
3. Keep them hydrated
Due to their body chemistry, children and teens are at higher risk for overheating than adults, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They adjust more slowly to changes in heat and they sweat less, which is one of the ways the body naturally cools itself.
During the hot summer months, monitor your kids during outdoor play and make sure everyone is drinking plenty of fluids, especially if they are participating in sports or rigorous physical activity. Fluids should be part of the activity before, during and after exercise.
4. Compliment their progress
They may roll their eyes at you, but teens do appreciate acknowledgement of a job well done. Cheer on your teen’s efforts and be sure to remind them that slow and steady progress can be one of the best way to achieve their goals – no matter what those goals may be.
Be aware of your words of encouragement and stay positive. Remember you’re looking to keep them engaged more so than pushing them to be number one at the finish line.
5. Involve your Lamoille Health Partners team
While parents are often a teen’s most effective role model, they may also be more likely to listen to anyone but their parents when it comes to healthy habits. Our team is here to talk to your teen directly at every annual visit about the importance of regular exercise and eating right.
We can provide your teen with additional guidance on healthy exercise including advice on getting the right bike helmets for your next family bike ride or the best way to manage post-workout aches. We’ll also chart your teen’s height and weight as their bodies continue to grow.
By involving the family and your Lamoille Health Partners team, your teens can stay healthy, active, and fit. Schedule a teen checkup today.