Fitness and Your 13- to 18-year-old
Regular physical activity can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and other medical problems down the road. But don't underestimate the immediate benefits of an active lifestyle: maintaining a healthy weight, feeling more energetic, and promoting a better outlook. Participating in team and individual sports, can boost self-confidence, provide opportunities for social interaction, and offer a chance to have fun. Such benefits are not limited to competitive sports; noncompetitive activities can also help teens achieve these goals.
Fitness in the Teen Years
Physical activity tends to decline during the teen years. Many teens are dropping out of organized sports and participation in daily physical education classes is becoming a thing of the past.
But given the opportunity and interest, teens can pick up on almost any activity that they enjoy, from competitive to noncompetitive sports from exercise classes to playing with friends. Skateboarding, in-line skating, yoga, swimming, dancing, or kicking a footbag in the driveway all qualify as great fitness activities. Weight training, under supervision of a qualified adult, can improve strength and help prevent sports injuries. The possibilities to get physically fit are endless.
Teens can also incorporate activity into their everyday routine, such as walking to school, doing chores, or finding an active part-time job. Even younger teens can enjoy opportunities to take on new responsibilities and be in charge, so jobs as junior camp counselors, baby sitters, or assistant coaches for young sports teams can serve that need while also providing the child with a chance to be active.
Motivating Teens to be Active
Teens face many new social and academic pressures in addition to dealing with emotional and physical changes. Recent studies have shown that teens on average are spending more than 6 hours a day on various media, including watching television, listening to music, going online, and playing video games. It's not surprising that teens can't seem to find the time to exercise and many parents find it difficult to motivate their teens to get active.
It's a good idea to give your child control over how he or she decides to be physically active. Since teens are defining themselves as individuals and want the power to make their own decisions, they are reluctant to do yet another thing they're told to do. Emphasize that it's not what they do, they just need to physically active on a regular basis. There are plenty of options for physical activity, but to keep them motivated it has to be fun. Support your child's choices by providing equipment, transportation, and companionship. Peers can play an influential role in your child's life at this point, so create opportunities for them to be active with their friends.
Once they get started, many teens enjoy the feeling of well-being, reduced stress, and increased strength and energy they get from exercise, so they often gravitate to exercise without nudging from a parent.
Help your teen stay active by finding an exercise regimen that fits with his or her schedule. Your teen may not have time to play a team sport at school or in a local league, but many gyms offer teen memberships, and your teen may be able to squeeze in a visit before or after school. Your teen might also feel more comfortable doing home exercise videos. If transportation is an obstacle, try coordinating your teen's exercise schedule with your own.
And don't forget to talk with your teen about limiting the time he or she spends in sedentary activities, including watching TV and using the computer.