Mayo Clinic Q&A: The Biggest Benefits of Exercise for Teens

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: When my daughter was young, she spent hours playing outside and running around. It happens much less now that she is a teenager. I’m afraid she’s not getting enough exercise. How much does she need each week and do you have any tips to get her moving?

ANSWER: As our children get older, many parents find it difficult to get their teenagers moving. Their lives are busy and their hobbies are often spent in front of a screen.

But just like adults, teens benefit in many ways from regular exercise. It builds endurance, bone and muscle strength, and aerobic capacity. Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight and improves sleep. These factors are essential as adolescents grow and develop through their formative years.

Exercise also contributes to adolescent mental health. It releases stress-busting endorphins and reduces the body’s production of stress hormones. It improves thinking and memory skills, which helps in school and social situations. Exercise also reduces the risk of depression and helps teens feel more energetic and have a positive outlook on life.

One of the biggest benefits of regular exercise for teens is that it establishes a healthy habit that lays the foundation for a lifetime of fitness. Research shows that active children and teens grow into healthy, active adults.

My patients have motivated me to become more active. I was not a physically active teenager or adult. Seeing my inactive patients struggle as they age convinced me that I had to do better. Although I still don’t like exercise, I now run regularly. And I feel much better. It would have been so much easier if I had started 30 years ago.

So how much exercise does your teenage daughter need? The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and teens age 6 and older get at least one hour of exercise a day five to six days a week.

If your daughter plays sports, she probably gets enough exercise every day. But if it’s off-season or if she doesn’t usually exercise, you may need to help her find an exercise or activity to do each week.

As part of the hour a day of exercise, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and teens incorporate these types of activities at least three days a week:

• Aerobic exercise. This includes exercises like running, cycling, swimming, dancing, aerobics classes, using an elliptical trainer, and walking.

• Muscle strengthening. Examples include lifting weights; use resistance bands; To go up the stairs; dancing; Cycling; and doing push-ups, squats, and sit-ups.

• Bone strengthening. This could include jumping rope and running, as well as sports that involve jumping or rapid changes in direction.

Motivating teens can be a challenge, but it is possible. Here are some tips if your teen seems interested in sitting more and exercising less:

• Model healthy exercise behaviors. You are an important role model for your daughter. She’s more likely to be physically active if you make it a family priority. Talk about how good you feel after exercise, plan an active vacation, plan evening walks with the family, or hit the gym or train together at home.

• Find the fun. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring. Work together to find exercises that your daughter finds fun and interesting. Try a new sport. Play some music and have a dance party in the kitchen. Explore a nature trail or cycle to a local park. Try a new exercise video online. Focusing on fun will make exercise something she looks forward to instead of dreading.

• Incorporate movement into your daily routines. Remember that every gesture counts. Encourage your daughter to take walks with friends over lunch, use the stairs instead of the elevator, or park the car in the backyard. They are also ways to model healthy habits.

• Make it social. Exercising with others keeps people motivated and inspired, and teenagers are no exception. Encourage her to join a team with friends or schedule a regular basketball game with the neighbors.

• Encourage them. Notice and compliment your daughter when she exercises. Everyone loves to hear they’re doing a good job, even eye-rolling teenagers. Praise him for his efforts and remind him that slow, steady progress is a good way to maintain healthy habits.

• Link the exercise to other interests. Not every teen wants to join a sports team, but movement can be incorporated into other activities. If your daughter loves photography, explore the hiking trails or parks for opportunities. Teens who like to read may be interested in biking to several bookstores, or teens who love animals might volunteer as a dog walker at a local humane charity.

Remember to check with your daughter’s primary care provider if you have any concerns before she starts a new exercise program, especially if she has a chronic condition such as epilepsy, diabetes or asthma. — Dr. Kimberly Beecher, Family Medicine, Mayo Clinic Health System, St. Peter, Minnesota

Exercise helps teen mental health by releasing stress-busting endorphins and reducing the body’s production of stress hormones.

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