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Exercise for Teens

Safe Ways to Exercise

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Updated April 07, 2009

If you're a teenager, you may be confused about how to exercise to get stronger, stay healthy or, for some, lose or gain weight. The good news is, there's no right way to workout and no perfect exercise that you have to do to be fit. While that's true, it helps to learn about the different ways you can exercise so you can have fun, reach your goals and avoid injuring yourself.

Exercise Do's

The great thing about exercise for teens is that just about any activity that gets you moving will work. You should try to get vigorous exercise in for about an hour a day at least 3 days a week and regular, more moderate activity during the rest of the week. Below are the different types of activity to include each week:

  • Vigorous Aerobic Exercise. This includes sports like football, tennis, soccer, volleyball, basketball, etc. It also includes brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming or chasing an annoying sibling. Always make sure you're wearing the proper protective gear whatever activity you choose and, as mentioned previously, try for this level of activity at least 3 times a week.
  • Muscle-Strengthening. This type of training helps you build muscular strength and endurance. It can involve unstructured activities like using playground equipment or climbing trees. It can also include structured strength workouts with exercises like squats, pushups or crunches using weights, machines, or your own body weight. Always work with an adult, coach, trainer or other expert before you start lifting weights to make sure you know the right exercises to do and how to do them correctly. You may already lift weights if you're playing a sport but, if not, you can add this type of activity 2 to 3 days a week, with at least a day of rest in between. Learn more about strength training for kids teens.
  • Regular Activity. Aside from participating in a sport or other activities like running or riding your bike, you should also include regular activity into your day, which means limiting how much time you sit at the computer or video game. This can include active games (like Wii or Dance Dance Revolution), taking walks, wrestling with your friends or tossing a ball in the backyard. This is something you can do every day, especially on the days you aren't doing harder, more structured workouts.

Exercise Don'ts

  • Power lifting. This type of training involves explosive lifting, often focusing on how much you can lift at one time. This type of training isn't recommended for teens because it's difficult to use good form and the body may be stressed too abruptly, causing injury.
  • Excessive exercise. Exercising too much can also lead to injuries, overtraining and, for girls, a change in menstrual cycles that could lead to bone loss. It's sometimes hard to know how much is too much, since everyone can tolerate a different amount of exercise. However, exercising several times a day or for several hours is probably too much on anyone. Following the guidelines and exercising about an hour a day is a good place to start.
  • Expect unrealistic results. While it's fine to have goals to improve your body, we can't always control what we can change. If you want bigger muscles, that's something that happens after puberty, although you can always build strength at any age. If you want to lose weight, exercise and a healthy diet are key, but don't expect dramatic weight loss overnight. Permanent, safe weight loss is a slow process and trying to speed it up with unhealthy diets or excessive exercise often backfires.

Tips for Getting More Exercise

If you're into sports, you probably have practice, games and other activities to keep you busy. If not, you may have to be creative about exercise, especially if you haven't had a chance to practice different activities to find what you like and what you're good at. Some ideas:

  • Walk, bike or skate to and from school, if that's an option
  • Ask your parents if you can go to the gym with them or if there's a local community center where you can exercise
  • Check your cable network to see if you have Exercise TV, a channel that offers free workouts any time you like
  • If you hang out at the mall or local shopping center, walk around rather than staying in one spot or eating junk at the food court
  • Create a new routine where you walk, inline skate or run every day when you get home from school or before dinner. If you don't want to exercise outside by yourself, ask your friends or a family member to go with you or use an exercise video in your own bedroom
  • Do some chores. Raking leaves or sweeping the driveway can actually burn calories while making your parents happy
  • Take the dog for a long walk

What ideas can you come up with? Write down things you think you'll enjoy and make a commitment to do them on a regular basis. If you don't know where to start, talk to your friends, family or someone you trust about what you can do. Remember that any activity that gets you moving will work, so start with something you like and focus on having fun.

Sources:

Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Strength Training by Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2001 Jun;107(6):1470-2.

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Chapter 3, Active Children and Adolescents. US Dept of Health & Human Services. Accessed Apr 1, 2009.

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