“Make time for [exercise] because once you get out of it, it’s so hard to get back in.”
– Tori, 16 years old
They run and play and participate in all sorts of sports. But what happens when little kids become teens?
“After a while, you just become like a couch potato,” says Tori, 16.
When she was a cheerleader in middle school, Tori got plenty of exercise. Now she’s 16, and she admits she hasn’t exercised regularly in years.
“I’m not physically fit,” she says. “I mean, I’m skinny, but I guess it’s just because I have a fast metabolism. But physically fit? Noooo!”
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association followed more than one thousand children aged 9 to 15.
97% were active when they were 9-years-old, but by the time they were 15, only 31% of teens were meeting the recommended sixty minutes of vigorous physical activity during the week. And only 17% met that target on the weekend.
The older they got, the less they exercised!
Experts speculate, for some it’s just laziness, for other, interests change, or they’re simply too busy.
Tori agrees: “School starts to get harder, and you get more homework, and you want to spend more time with your friends and you need more sleep.”
Still, experts warn that teens must find a way to remain active otherwise they risk becoming obese or sick later in life. Parents can help by getting involved in activities with their children.
“Whether it’s running and pulling a kite in the wind or going out throwing a Frisbee or going for a walk with your dog, if you incorporate those things, you’re just gonna have a better quality of life,” says Jon Crosby, an Atlanta-based sports and fitness trainer.
Tori’s advice to fellow teens: “Make time for [exercise] because once you get out of it, it’s so hard to get back in.”
Tips for Parents
Many studies have found similar results to the UC- San Diego study. University of Pittsburgh researchers report that as girls age, they increasingly get less and less exercise. In their study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers evaluated the exercise habits of 1,213 black girls and 1,166 white girls for 10 years, beginning at age 9 or 10. By the time the girls were 16 or 17, nearly 56% of the black girls and nearly 31% of the white girls reported no regular exercise participation at all outside of school.
While this study focused on teenage girls, other research shows that participation in physical activity is decreasing among all American children. The National Association for Sport & Physical Education reports that only 25% of all U.S. kids are physically active. And while most parents believe that their children are getting enough exercise during school hours, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (PCPFS) says that only 17% of middle or junior high schools and 2% of senior high schools require daily physical activity for all students.
As a result of this physical inactivity, more and more children are becoming obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13% of children aged 6 to 11 and 18% of teens aged 12 to 19 are overweight. These same overweight adolescents also have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults and are at an increased risk for developing health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer. In fact, the PCPFS reports that physical inactivity contributes to 300,000 preventable deaths a year in the United States.
Besides preventing the onset of certain diseases, regular physical exercise can also help your child in the following ways, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Helps control weight
- Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints
- Improves flexibility
- Helps burn off stress
- Promotes psychological well-being
- Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
As a parent, you need to emphasize to your child the importance of physical activity. This can often be a difficult task, as you may encounter some resistance from a child who enjoys sedentary activities like watching television and surfing the Internet. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends the following guidelines for easing your child into an active lifestyle:
- Don’t just tell your child that exercise is fun; show him or her! Get off the couch and go biking, rock climbing or inline skating with your child. Skip rope or shoot baskets with him or her.
- Invite your child to participate in vigorous household tasks, such as tending the garden, washing the car or raking leaves. Demonstrate the value of these chores as quality physical activity.
- Plan outings and activities that involve some walking, like a trip to the zoo, a nature hike or even a trip to the mall.
- Set an example for your child and treat exercise as something to be done on a regular basis, like brushing your teeth or cleaning your room.
- Concentrate on the positive aspects of exercise. It can be a chance for your family to have some fun together. Avoid competition, discipline and embarrassment, which can turn good times into bad times. Praise your child for trying and doing.
- Keep in mind that your child is not always naturally limber. His or her muscles may be tight and vulnerable to injury during growth spurts. Be sure to include stretching as part of your child’s fitness activities.
- Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand. Instead of high-calorie foods and snacks, turn your child on to fruits and low- or non-fat foods.
If you discover that your teen is having trouble staying motivated to exercise, the American Academy of Family Physicians suggests these strategies:
- Choose an activity that your child likes to do. Make sure it suits him or her physically, too.
- Encourage your child to get a partner. Exercising with a friend can make it more fun.
- Tell your child to vary his or her routine. Your child may be less likely to get bored or injured if he or she changes his or her exercise routine. Your child could walk one day and bicycle the next.
- Ensure that your child is active during a comfortable time of day. Don’t allow him or her to work out too soon after eating or when it’s too hot or cold outside. And make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids to stay hydrated during physical activity.
- Remind your child not to get discouraged. It can take weeks or months before he or she notices some of the changes from and benefits of exercise.
- Tell your child to forget “no pain, no gain.” While a little soreness is normal after your child first starts exercising, pain isn’t. He or she should stop if hurt.
With a little encouragement and help from you, your child will be up and moving in no time!
- American Academy of Family Physicians
- American Council on Exercise
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- National Association for Sport & Physical Education
- Office of the Surgeon General
- President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
- The New England Journal of Medicine