Dr-Jack-Rutherford

Dr. Jack Rutherford

As kids enter their teenage years, you might see a drop off in their involvement in physical activity. Between school, homework, friends and possibly part-time jobs, they're juggling a lot of interests and time becomes scarce. Clearly however, regular physical activity can help your teen be more energetic, improve focus and concentration, raise physical self-esteem and reduce stress. More importantly, a regular physical activity regime can help your teen maintain a healthy weight and prevent heart disease, diabetes and other medical problems later in life.

Physical activity guidelines recommend teens get at least an hour of physical activity daily. Most of this activity should be aerobic in nature such as brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, basketball, in-line skating, soccer -- really any continuous activity that uses large muscles. Regular workouts improve the efficiency of the cardiovascular system, so that the heart and lungs don't have to work as hard the meet the body's increased demands for oxygenated blood.

Aerobic exercise also positively affects body composition, the relative amount of fat to lean body mass, by burning excess calories that would otherwise be stored on the body as fat. In general, the more aerobic an activity, the more calories are expended. For example, if a teen is 132 pounds and walks at a moderate pace for 10 minutes, he or she will burn 43 calories. By increasing the pace to a run, he or she doubles the caloric expenditure to 90 calories.

The teen years are also often the time when weight training is introduced. Teens can safely participate in strength (resistance) training under the guidance of a well-trained adult such as the physical education teacher in the school. Most weight training should emphasize proper technique. Numerous studies show that young people gain strength and muscular endurance faster by lifting moderately heavy weights many times rather than straining to lift heavier loads for just a few repetitions. Contests among teens in which the goal is to see who can lift the most weight should be strictly avoided. At least a day off between weight training sessions is recommended for teens.

Parents often make the mistake of trying to force their teens into particular physical activities. Let them decide how they want to be physically active. Emphasize that it's not about what they do, just that they are active. Clearly, the motivation to participate in an activity is not likely to last unless the activity is fun. Support your teen's choices by providing equipment, transportation and companionship. At this age, peer influence is important, so create opportunities for them to be active with their friends.

Finally, parents should limit the time spent in sedentary activities such as watching TV, playing video games, and using smartphones, tablets and computers.

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