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Teenagers benefit greatly from regular exercise.


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DEAR MAYO CLINIC! When my daughter was little, she spent hours outside playing and running. This happens much less frequently now that she is a teenager. I’m worried that she doesn’t exercise enough. How much does she need each week, and do you have any tips on how to motivate her to move?

REPLY: As our children grow, many parents find it difficult to get their teens to move. Their life is busy, and they often spend their free time in front of the screen.

But just like adults, teens benefit a lot from regular exercise. It develops endurance, bone and muscle strength, and aerobic fitness. Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight and improves sleep. These factors are critical as teenagers grow and develop during their formative years.

Exercise also helps teen mental health. It releases anti-stress endorphins and reduces the body’s production of stress hormones. It improves thinking and memory skills that help in school and social situations. Exercise also reduces the risk of depression and helps teens feel more energized and have a positive outlook on life.

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One of The biggest benefits of regular exercise for teenagers is that it establishes a healthy habit that lays the foundation for lifelong fitness. Research shows that active children and teens become healthy and active adults.

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

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

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

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents include the following activities in their daily exercise routine at least three days a week:

  • Aerobic exercise. This includes activities such as running, cycling, swimming, dancing, aerobics, using the elliptical trainer, and walking.
  • Muscle strengthening. Examples include weight lifting; use of resistance bands; climbing the stairs; dancing; a ride on the bicycle; and do push-ups, squats and squats.
  • Strengthening bones. These can be jumping rope and running, as well as sports that involve jumping or quickly changing direction.

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

Model healthy exercise behavior. You are an important role model for your daughter. She is more likely to be physically active if you make it a family priority. Talk about how good you feel after your workout, plan an outdoor activity, plan an evening walk with the whole family, or go to the gym, or work out together at home.

Find pleasure. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring. Work together to find activities that your daughter finds fun and interesting. Try a new sport. Turn on the music and have a dance party in the kitchen. Explore a nature trail or cycle through a local park. Try the new exercise video online. Focusing on fun will make exercise something she looks forward to rather than dreads.

Incorporate movement into your daily life. Don’t forget that every bit counts. Encourage your daughter take a walk with friends during lunch, use the stairs instead of the elevator, or park your car in the back of the parking lot. These are also ways in which you can model healthy habits.

Make it social. Playing sports together motivates and inspires people, and teenagers are no exception. Invite her to join a team of friends, or schedule a regular basketball game with her neighbors.

Cheer them up. Notice and praise your daughter when she is exercising. Everyone loves to hear that they are doing a good job, even teenagers who roll their eyes. Applaud her for her efforts and remind her that slow and steady progress is a good way to maintain healthy habits.

Link exercise to other interests. Not every teenager wants to join a sports team, but movement can be incorporated into other activities. If your daughter is into photography, explore hiking trails or parks for opportunities. Teens who love to read may be interested in biking to a few bookstores, and teens who love animals can volunteer to walk their dogs at their local animal welfare association.

Be sure to check with your daughter’s primary care physician about any concerns you have before she starts a new exercise program, especially if she has chronic conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, or asthma. — Kimberly Beecher, MDFamily Medicine, Mayo Clinic Health System, St. Peter, Minnesota

The Mayo Clinic FAQ is an educational resource and is not a substitute for regular medical care. Email your question to MayoClinicQ&[email protected] For more information visit www.mayoclinic.org.

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