December 6, 2022

How to help your teen move more

Read Time:6 Minute, 24 Second


(CNN) — It’s no secret that exercise is important for your health, whatever your age. And it’s tempting to assume that kids don’t have a problem staying active. After all, there is gym class at school, recess for the little ones and organized sports, many organized sports. But children, and especially adolescents, are much less active than is believed.

Teens should get at least 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity each day, according to the World Health Organization. However, a 2019 study, published in the academic journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, showed that less than 20% of adolescents in school around the world engage in this amount of activity, with girls being less active than boys. In the United States, that figure is only slightly higher, with 24% of children between the ages of 6 and 17 being physically active for 60 minutes a day, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What accounts for these discouraging figures? To many things. The appeal of organized sports is fading, not least due to rising costs, time commitment and often hyper-competitive nature. Only 38% of children aged 6 to 12 played an organized sport in 2018, compared to 45% in 2008, according to the Aspen Institute. The Covid-19 pandemic may have further accelerated the downward trend, the Aspen Institute wrote in its report. State of Play 2021.

Then there is the technology. Nearly half of American teens say they are online”almost constantly“according to a Pew Research Center study, up from just 24% in 2014-2015. And recess and outdoor playtime are no longer required in most schools, said Carol Harrison, senior clinical physiologist of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and more children drive to school today than in the past when they walked or biked.

exercise teens

A bike ride is the kind of physical activity that members of the whole family can participate in and enjoy. Credit: vm/E+/Getty Images

“Many children also arrive at a home where both parents may not have come home from work yet,” Harrison said. “The result, very often, is computer gaming and TV watching, which are very often accompanied by unhealthy snacking.”

This lack of movement is concerning, experts say, and not just from a weight standpoint. In addition to improving heart, muscle, bone, and metabolic health, regular exercise helps improve coordination and agility, and the resulting increased blood flow is also helpful to your brain.

“Studies have shown that children who engage in daily physical activity generally improve their attention and concentration, which translates into better academic performance,” he says. “It also helps control impulses and better manage emotions.”

Ways to boost physical activity

How to get your teenager to start exercising? Although often challenging, there are many ways to introduce more physical activity into children’s lives.

Make movement a fun and social experience

No one wants to be told to go for a run. Instead, look for activities that they can all enjoy together. It can be something as simple as a family bike ride, a throwing round of poufs or a trip to the park with friends. On days off, schedule a camping trip that includes a daily swimming, hiking, or rowing session.

exercise teens

Skating keeps kids moving. Exercise also improves concentration and attention of young people. Credit: Sutthichai Supapornpasupad/Moment RF/Getty Images

“Focus on the fun,” says Harrison. “With most kids, fun is a necessary ingredient.” So is the social aspect. “Studies have shown that the No. 1 reason most adults start and continue an exercise program is the social component,” she said. “The same thing happens to children.”

Consider organized sports

Organized sports are good for helping teens build social connections and learn to persevere and work as a team. But some programs focus more on winning and less on cultivating skills. If your child is eager to master a particular sport, a competitive program may be a good option. But teens who play organized sports for fun and socialization may prefer a less competitive environment.

And keep in mind that coaches play a big role in a team’s activity level, says Jennifer Agans, an adjunct professor in Penn State’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management, in University Park, Pennsylvania. Some run less active practices, where players may spend a lot of time listening to instructions or waiting their turn on a shooting drill.

Not all children are going to enjoy organized sports, especially if they are not competitive. But maybe they like rock climbing, skating, or performing arts. “My entry point was the youth circus,” Agans said, “and the trapeze is a booming youth activity right now.”

Do not close yourself to different options

exercise teens

Climbing is a great alternative activity for teens, especially those who don’t play organized sports. Credit: Dedy Andrianto/E+/Getty Images

There is also dance, yoga, martial arts, ultimate Frisbee, badminton and pickleball, among others. The current trend is virtual reality exercise, something that, according to Agans, will be very important in the future. The studies already show that it can have a positive effect on physical activity.

move without noticing

Exercise is not strictly equivalent to sport. Chores around the house burn calories, for example, so assign your kids chores that are age-appropriate and require more movement. Think about mowing the lawn or vacuuming instead of dusting or drying the dishes. Creating a garden is another good option, says Harrison, since gardens involve planting, watering, pulling weeds and much more.

exercise teens

Chores like mowing the lawn are a great way for teens to work up a sweat and burn off some calories. Credit: soupstock/Adobe Stock

Competitions can also encourage activity. Challenge your child to see who runs the fastest, does the most sit-ups, or walks the most steps each day or week. Use small gifts as rewards. And don’t overlook volunteer work, which often involves a lot of movement. Maybe they can participate in a trail building event or help someone pack and move boxes.

Pay attention to your teenager

If teens are suddenly uninterested in an activity they normally enjoy, sit down and talk with them. Perhaps their lack of interest in swimming is because they are suddenly embarrassed to be seen in a bathing suit, says Agans. Or maybe they want to quit soccer because a new teammate makes fun of them, or because they don’t have any friends on the team this year.

“These kinds of interpersonal limitations can keep people from doing activities they enjoy,” she says, so don’t assume your child has suddenly lost motivation to move. Something else could be going on.

Also watch for signs of exercise addiction, which involves excessive exercise and is often related to eating disorders. Signs of compulsive exercise include losing a lot of weight, exercising more after eating a large meal or skipping a workout, and refusing to skip a workout, even when tired, sick, or injured.

Highlight the positives

When teens find activities they like, be sure to point out all the positives that come from increasing their activity level, whether it’s stronger muscles, better sleep, or higher energy levels. That can help them on days when their motivation falters, something that happens to both children and adults.

“Children can learn to get excited about movement,” says Agans. “We have to get them on a path where they have a foundation of enjoyment with movement that makes them seek out activity as a young adult.”

— Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer specializing in hiking, travel and fitness.



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