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How much physical activity does my teen need?

September 25, 2015

Physical activity is very important for a growing body. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends children and teens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This can be a difficult task for some due to school work, studying for tests, hanging out with friends, and also spending quality time with family. Many teens are happy to know that these 60 minutes can be split up into two, three, or even four segments. A brisk 30 minute walk to school in the morning and a quick 30 minute run in the evening will satisfy these physical activity recommendations.

Why is physical activity important for my teen?

Physical activity is important for overall good health. It helps maintain a healthy weight, keeps bones and muscle strong, improves flexibility and also lowers the risk of developing diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Exercise benefits not only the body, but also the mind. Being active often makes us feel happier, which can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and also improves self-confidence.

What can parents do to help their teen to become more active?

As a parent, you play a vital part in shaping your teen’s attitudes and behaviors towards physical activity. When parents have a positive attitude towards a healthy lifestyle, teens are more likely mirror those positive actions. Here are some ways parents can help teens stay or become more active:
  • Get involved. Be physically active alongside your teen. If you are encouraging your child to exercise more, you also have to make an effort to become more active. Set a positive example by leading a healthy active lifestyle.
  • Be positive. Be careful not to pass on your negative sports memories from your childhood. If you twisted your ankle playing soccer or did not get picked to play middle school baseball, don’t discourage your teen from trying out or participating in that particular sport.
  • Show encouragement. Encourage teens to become interested in new activities by exposing them to unfamiliar sports or activities.
  • Select gifts that encourage physical activity (basketballs, skateboards, running shoes, baseball gloves, and jump ropes) instead of promoting sedentary activities (video games and DVD’s)
  • Get the whole family involved by enjoying a family walk after dinner or taking a family trip to locations where teens can let out all their energy (neighborhood pools, basketball courts, baseball field, or outdoor events)
  • Make physical activity fun. Family hula hoop contests, game of Twister, dance competitions, or hop scotch is always a blast. As long as everyone is laughing, it will be a success.
  • Start an exercise club. Instead of teens staying home and watching television, encourage them to start a neighborhood walking, soccer or running club. These clubs can include the whole family or just the teens.
  • Plan weekend events that involve some sort of physical activity (hiking, water sports, visiting the zoo, city walking tours etc.)

How do I help my teen overcome physical activity barriers?

Most teenagers have a difficult time meeting the recommendations for physical activity due to multiple reasons. These reasons can range from disliking exercise to the hot and rainy weather outside. Overcoming barriers can be challenging but also very rewarding once succeeded. When able, sit down with your teen and discuss their physical activity barriers. Try to determine at least one or two solutions to help them overcome them.

Here are some examples of barriers and possible solutions.

  1. Barrier: I do not have enough time to exercise
Solution: Try to select activities that require minimal time such as walking, in-home exercise videos, or running. Add physical activity to your daily routine. If your son or daughter takes the bus to and from school, try encouraging them to ride their bike or walk home with a friend. Add taking the family dog for a brisk walk the daily chores. Sometimes developing an exercise calendar can be helpful.
  1. Barrier: I have a difficult time staying motivated
Solution: Invite a motivated friend to exercise with you. Set up a reasonable time and also a neutral meeting place to meet up. Keeping each other accountable can help prevent last minute schedule changes.
  1. Barrier: I do not enjoy exercising
Solution: Exercise does not always have to be boring. Try new activities such as jump rope, bike riding, soccer, skateboarding, swimming, flag football, kick boxing, dancing, running, or walking. We have to keep trying new activities until we find one that suits us. Invite a friend to join.
  1. Barrier:  It is always too hot or rainy outside to play
Solution: Exercising outdoors can be a challenge if the weather does not cooperate. Develop an in-home exercise circuit using a yoga mat and some small free weights. Try other indoor activities such as mall walking, dancing, attending indoor exercise classes at a local gym, jump rope, or playing video games that involve movement.

Staying active can be a challenge for some teens, but with support from family and friends, they can be on their way to meeting these recommendations.

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