It’s no secret that exercise is good for your health at any age. It’s tempting to assume that youngsters have no issue staying active. There’s gym class in school, recess for the younger kids, and organized sports—lots of organized sports. Children, especially teenagers, are less active than you might imagine.
The World Health Organization recommends 60 minutes of moderate or intense physical activity each day for adolescents. A 2019 study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal found less than 20% of school-going teenagers worldwide got as much activity, with girls being less active than boys. In the United States, 24% of children ages 6 to 17 are physically active for 60 minutes per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What’s behind these low numbers? Many things. The attractiveness of organized sports is eroding due to rising prices, time commitments, and hypercompetition. Just 38% of youngsters ages 6 to 12 played an organized sport in 2018, down from 45% in 2008. The COVID-19 pandemic may have expedited the decreasing trend, the Aspen Institute concluded in its State of Play 2021 report.
Then there’s technology. Nearly half of US youth are online “nearly constantly,” according to a Pew Research Center report, up from 24% in 2014-2015. Recess and outside activity are no longer required in most schools, said Carol Harrison of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. More students are driven to school today than in the past, when they walked or biked.
“Many kids come home from school to find that both parents are still at work,” Harrison said. “The result is generally gaming on computers and watching TV while consuming unhealthy snacks.”
This lack of mobility is problematic, experts warn, and not just from a weight standpoint. Regular exercise improves your heart, muscular, bone, and metabolic health, as well as your coordination and agility. The increased blood flow also benefits the brain.
“Studies suggest that students who exercise every day have greater overall attention and focus, which translates to improved academic performance,” she said. It also helps with impulse control and emotion regulation.
Ways to promote physical activity
How do you persuade your teen to sweat? There are various strategies to integrate greater physical activity into children’s lives.
Make motion a joyful, social experience.
No one wants to be told to start running. Instead, try to find things that everyone can enjoy. This might be as easy as a family bike ride, beanbag toss, or trip to the park with friends. On days off, organize a camping vacation with daily swim, walk, or paddle sessions.
“Focus on fun,” Harrison advised. “For most kids, amusement is essential. So is the social aspect.” “Studies show that the No. 1 reason most adults start and sustain an exercise program is the social component,” she said. “Kids are the same.”
Consider organized sports
Organized sports help kids create social bonds and learn perseverance and collaboration. Some programs are more concerned with winning than with developing skills.If your kid wants to learn a particular sport, a competitive program may be a good fit. Teens who engage in organized sports for fun and sociability may prefer a less competitive setting.
Coaches play a huge effect on a team’s activity level, said Jennifer Agans, an assistant professor at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania. Some run less-active sessions where players spend a lot of time listening to instructions or waiting in line for a basketball shooting activity.
Think outside the box.
Not all kids love structured sports, especially if they’re not competitive. Maybe they’d enjoy rock climbing, skateboarding, or the performing arts. “My starting point was the young circus,” Agans added. “Trapeze is a growing youth activity today.”
There are also yoga, martial arts, ultimate frisbee, badminton, pickleball, and more. Agans believes that virtual reality exercise will become popular in the future.Studies show it can increase physical activity.
Sneak it in.
Exercise doesn’t equal sports. Chores burn calories, so assign your kids age-appropriate ones that require the most movement. Think about mowing the yard or vacuuming versus dusting or drying the dishes. Harrison said a garden is another wonderful choice because it involves planting, watering, and weeding.
Competitions can also increase activity. Challenge your teen to see who can run the quickest, do the most sit-ups, or walk the most steps every day or week. Use little gifts as a reward. Don’t ignore volunteer work, which entails a lot of motion. They can participate in a trail-building event or help pack and move boxes.
Be attuned to your teen.
If teens suddenly lose interest in an activity they generally enjoy, talk to them. “Maybe they’ve lost interest in swimming because they’re embarrassed to be seen in a bikini,” Agans added. Or maybe they want to drop out of soccer because a new teammate is making fun of them or they don’t have a friend on the squad this year.
“Interpersonal restraints like these might prohibit people from doing activities they like,” she said, so don’t assume your kid has lost enthusiasm to move. Something else could be going on.
Watch for indicators of exercise addiction, which involves excessive exercising and is typically linked to eating disorders. Signs of compulsive exercise include losing a lot of weight, exercising more after eating a lot or missing a session, and refusing to skip a workout, even when tired, unwell, or wounded.
Point out the benefits.
As teens find things they enjoy, be sure to notice all the perks stemming from their increased movement, such as stronger muscles, better sleep, and higher energy levels. This can aid them on days when their motivation wanes, which happens to both youngsters and adults.
Agans said, “Kids can learn to be excited about moving.” “We need to teach them to value exercise and look for it when they are young adults.”