Getting Teenagers Physically Active Can Be Difficult

Dorian Martin Health Guide

  • I have many friends who are focused on being good role models for their children. Whether it’s showing professional commitment to their jobs, voting in every election or volunteering to help an important cause that they believe in, my friends try to use their lives as an example of what to do. The same goes for embracing a healthy lifestyle.

    However, a new study out of Germany suggests that there isn’t much of a correlation between whether one or both parents are physically active and a teenager’s fitness level. The study involved 1,328 German boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 17. Researchers used questionnaires to collect data on the teens’ height, weight, transportation to and from school, after-school athletic activities, and time spent in front of the television, computer or game console. In addition, the researchers used bicycle tests in order to determine the participants’ cardiorespiratory fitness. The researchers also collected data about the body weight and activity levels of the teens’ parents and siblings.

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    Their analysis determined that only eight percent of the teens reached the 60 minutes of moderate activity per day that is recommended by the World Health Organization. The researchers did determine that the teens who were at a normal weight based on their body mass index and higher activity levels were the fittest. The analysis also found that weight – especially for boys – was the most significant fact in their physical fitness level. Interestingly, having a father, mother or sibling who was of a normal weight and who was physically active on a regular basis didn’t influence the teens’ level of fitness.

    The researchers also determined that teens who rode their bike to school were more physically fit than teenagers who walked or rode a bus. They also found that 65 percent of the teenage boys in the study were more like to spend two or more hours in front of a screen, as compared to 40.2 percent of the teenage girls; furthermore, fitness was found to be lower in boys.

    So how can parents promote physical activity to their teenagers? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that physical activity helps teenagers develop skills and pastimes that can be enjoyed throughout life. Some teenagers are aware of diseases that affect the family or community, which may make them receptive to taking action in order to lower their risk of developing these conditions. AAP suggests encouraging health care professionals to link exercise and physical activities with reduce risk of diseases that negatively affect a teen’s family.

    AAP also notes that some teenagers prefer competitive sports while other teenagers should look at noncompetitive activities as an opportunity to socialize. The academy encourages adolescents who are heavily schedule to participate in short spurts (10 minutes) of moderately intense physical activity throughout the day in order to reach the 60 minute recommendation.

    The academy points out that social and peer influences can have an effect on a teen’s participation in physical activity. “The best physical activities are those that adolescents enjoy,” the AAP stated.

  • While girls and boys can participate in competitive sports together during early adolescence, the AAP warns that changes during puberty should result in any coed activities being limited to non-collison sports.  “To promote participation and enjoyment for all adolescents, including adolescents with special health care needs, physical education teachers and coaches should establish teams based on each person’s skill level, size, and strength, rather than gender,” the Academy stated.

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    American Academy of Pediatrics. (2008). Bright futures: Guidelines for health supervision of infants, children, and adolescents.

    Lukits, A. (2013). Don’t blame parents if teens aren’t fit. The Wall Street Journal.

Published On: June 25, 2013