Teenagers Aren’t Getting Enough Exercise. Here’s How to Help.

by | Updated: October 4th, 2021 | Read time: 3 minutes

TikTok may be a fun entertainment outlet for social-media-obsessed teens. But when it comes to teens’ physical health, the clock is ticking and tocking too slow.

A statistic from the American Heart Association underscores the situation: Only about one-fourth of American high school students engage in the recommended one hour of physical activity each day. Worse yet, a study published in 2017 found that by age 19, American teens were only as active as 60-year-olds.

Family and Teen Exercise Session in Living Room Setting | Vitacost Blog

The heart association pins part of the blame on the amount of time teens spend with screens, like those on their cellphones. But the nonprofit also cites the decline in physical education programs at school.

“Physically active children tend to be less obese and are less likely to develop hypertension, diabetes and cardiac disease, and they have better mental well-being as well,” Dr. Geetha Raghuveer, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, Missouri, tells the heart association. “Physical activity is an important part of a child’s life.”

Why is teen exercise important?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical activity offers several benefits for teens. These include reducing the risk of:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure

In addition, physical activity can boost energy, relieve stress, lead to better sleep, fight anxiety and depression, and improve self-image, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota.

Furthermore, the CDC says, teens who are physically active typically attend classes more regularly, earn higher grades, exhibit better concentration and more easily remember what they’re taught.

Federal guidelines recommend children and adolescents (ages 6 to 17) do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, according to the CDC.

How can you get your teen moving?

The heart association, CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, University of Rochester Medical Center, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, NYU Langone Health and Psychology Today recommend the following 10 ways to motivate your teen to get moving.

1. Limit daily screen time on electronic devices — such as TVs, computers, cellphones, tablets and video games — to two hours.

2. Do virtual training. To marry the exercise and digital worlds, suggest that your teen set up online exercise sessions with friends. Or encourage your teen to do solo workouts at home with the aid of YouTube exercise videos.

3. Assign chores like yardwork that promote calorie-burning physical activity.

4. Swap a sedentary trip (to the movies, for instance) for a more active trip (to a bowling alley, for example).

5. Encourage at least a moderate amount of physical activity every day, such as a brisk 30-minute walk or a 15- to 20-minute jog.

6. Emphasize a fun activity. “Help your child find a sport that she enjoys. The more she enjoys the activity, the more likely she will be to continue it,” the pediatrics group says.

7. Take advantage of public places that promote physical activity, such as parks, baseball fields and basketball courts.

8. Mix transportation with exercise. Urge your teen to walk to school or hop on a bike to visit a friend’s house, for instance.

9. Turn it into a group activity. “A great way to keep young children engaged and interested in being physically active is to exercise as a family and to make it fun,” says Dr. Cordelia Carter, a sports health specialist at NYU Langone Health.

10. Set a good example. If you exercise regularly, your teen might be more inclined to get moving. You might even invite your teen to join you at the gym, the yoga studio or another spot where you’re getting a workout.

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