(CNN) — It’s no secret that exercise is important to your health, regardless of your age. And it’s tempting to assume that kids have no problem staying active. After all, there is PE class at school, recess for the little ones and organized sports, lots of organized sports. But children, and especially adolescents, are much less active than is thought.
Teens should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, according to the World Health Organization. However, a 2019 study published in the academic journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health found that less than 20% of school-aged adolescents worldwide engage in this amount of activity, with girls being less active than the boys. In the United States, that number is only slightly higher, with 24 percent of children ages 6 to 17 being physically active for 60 minutes a day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). , for its acronym in English ).
What accounts for these discouraging numbers? On many things. The appeal of organized sports is fading, not least because of the rising costs, time commitment and often hyper-competitive nature. Only 38 percent of children ages 6 to 12 participated in an organized sport in 2018, down from 45 percent in 2008, according to the Aspen Institute. The Covid-19 pandemic may have further accelerated the downward trend, the Aspen Institute wrote in its 2021 Status Report.
Then there’s the technology. Nearly half of American teenagers say they are online “almost constantly,” according to a Pew Research Center survey, up from just 24 percent in 2014-2015. And recess and outdoor playtime are no longer required in most schools, Carroll said. Harrison, a senior clinical physiologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Also, more children drive to school today than in the past when they walked or biked.
“Many children also arrive at a home where both parents may not have come home from work yet,” Harrison said. “The result is very often computer games and TV watching, which are very often accompanied by unhealthy snacks.”
This lack of movement is alarming, experts say, and not just from a weight perspective. In addition to improving heart, muscle, bone and metabolic health, regular exercise helps improve coordination and agility, and the resulting increased blood flow is also good for your brain.
“Studies show that children who engage in daily physical activity generally improve their attention and concentration, which translates into better academic performance,” he says. “It also helps with impulse control and better emotional management.”
Ways to increase physical activity
How to get your teenager to start exercising? Although it’s often a challenge, there are many ways to introduce more physical activity into children’s lives.
Make moving a fun and social experience
No one wants to be told to go for a run. Instead, look for activities that you can all enjoy together. It could be something as simple as a family bike ride, throwing puffs or a trip to the park with friends. On the weekends, plan a camping trip that includes daily swimming, hiking, or paddling.
“Focus on the fun,” says Harrison. “With most kids, fun is a necessary ingredient.” So is the social aspect. “Research shows that the No. 1 reason most adults start and continue an exercise program is the social component,” he said. “The same thing happens with children.”
Consider organized sports
Organized sports help teens build social bonds and learn to persevere and work as a team. But some programs focus more on winning and less on cultivating skills. If your child has a desire to master a particular sport, a competitive program may be a good option. But teenagers who play organized sports for fun and socialization may prefer a less competitive environment.
And keep in mind that coaches play a big role in a team’s activity level, says Jennifer Agans, an assistant professor in the Pennsylvania Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management in University Park, Pennsylvania. Some hold less active practices, where players may spend a lot of time listening to instructions or waiting their turn at shooting practice.
Not all children will enjoy organized sports, especially if they are not competitive. But maybe they like rock climbing, ice skating or performing arts. “My entry point was youth circus,” Agans said, “and trapeze is a booming youth activity right now.”
Don’t close yourself off to different options
There is also dancing, yoga, martial arts, ultimate frisbee, badminton and pickle, by the way. The current trend is virtual reality exercise, something Agans believes will be very important in the future. Studies have already shown that it can have a positive effect on physical activity.
move without noticing
Exercise is not strictly equivalent to sport. Housework, for example, burns calories, so give your kids tasks that are age-appropriate and require more movement. Consider mowing the lawn or vacuuming instead of mopping or drying the dishes. Starting a garden is another good option, Harrison says, because gardens involve planting, watering, weeding and more.
Competitions can also encourage activity. Challenge your child to see who runs the fastest, does the most sit-ups, or takes the most steps each day or week. Use small gifts as rewards. And don’t overlook volunteer work, which often involves a lot of movement. Maybe they can participate in a trail building event or help someone pack and move boxes.
Pay attention to your teenager
If your teen is suddenly not interested in an activity they normally enjoy, sit down and talk to them. Perhaps their lack of interest in swimming is because they are suddenly embarrassed to be seen in a bathing suit, Agans says. Or maybe they want to quit football because a new teammate is making fun of them or because they don’t have any friends on the team this year.
“These types of interpersonal limitations can prevent people from doing activities they enjoy,” she says, so don’t assume your child has suddenly lost motivation to move. Something else could be going on.
Also watch for signs of exercise addiction, which involves excessive exercise and is often linked to eating disorders. Signs of compulsive exercise include losing a lot of weight, exercising more after a heavy meal or skipping a workout, and refusing to skip a workout even when you’re tired, sick, or injured.
Emphasize the positives
When teens find activities they enjoy, be sure to point out all the positives that come from increasing their activity level, whether it’s stronger muscles, better sleep, or higher energy levels. This can help them on days when their motivation wanes, something that happens to both children and adults.
“Kids can learn to get excited about movement,” Agans says. “We need to get them on a path where they have the foundation of enjoyment of movement that leads them to seek out activity as a young adult.”
— Melanie Rajicki McManus is a freelance writer specializing in tourism, travel and fitness.