According to the CDC, children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. At the same time, a recent article published in USA Today states that only one in four adolescents age 12-15 are getting enough exercise to meet these standards. The American Heart Association reports that childhood obesity is now the number one health concern among parents in the United States.
Beyond the difficulties of maintaining a healthy weight, there are a broad range of health problems that may emerge when a young person doesn’t get enough exercise. Many of these are not seen until adulthood, and can include:
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Elevated blood cholesterol
So what can be done to prevent this epidemic? Studies show that regular exercise promotes physical health, increases lean muscle mass, strengthens bones, and boosts self-esteem. Here are some ideas to help keep adolescents active throughout the day:
On the way to and from school
- Allow them to ride their kick scooter or bike to and from school
- If your building has an elevator, opt to take the stairs instead when the family is heading out for the day.
- Encourage them to try an after-school activity that involves physical exercise, such as a team sport, track and field, or dance. Many local YMCA’s offer games such as basketball, indoor hockey, swimming, and open gym time.
- Schedule some time at least once a week to do something active together, like throw around a baseball/football, kick a soccer ball, or go on a bike ride
- If your teenager is interested in video games, make sure there are some games that require them to get up and move in the collection. The games available now span a range of interests, including bowling, baseball, dance, and yoga.
It might not be the most popular option (for them at least), but a lot of chores are actually great physical activities! Outdoor chores are especially good, such as:
- Raking the leaves
- Shoveling the snow
- Washing the car
- Mowing the lawn
Remember that your child doesn’t have to perform any on activity for a full 60 hour to get the benefits. As long as the accumulated time each day is at least 60 minutes, they can mix it up-half an hour riding their bike to and from school, and half an hour playing catch together at home, for example. The important thing is to find something they like to do and work into their regular schedules, so that they develop a habit of staying active that will serve them well into adulthood.
Jessica Graziano is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.