Physical activity in your teens
After exams, work, hanging with friends, pleasing your parents, keeping your Insta feed up-to-date, learning to drive and managing to find some time to chill, it might not seem like there are enough hours in the day to exercise as well.
Based on statistics which show that 9 in 10 young Aussies don’t move their bodies enough each day, it seems like most teenagers are finding it hard to make time to get active. And it’s not just a problem in Australia; according to the World Health Organization, more than 80 per cent of adolescents worldwide aren’t getting enough physical activity.
Why physical activity is important
Getting enough physical activity is one of best ways you can look after every facet of your health. Not doing enough in your teens can have consequences that affect your health right now and later on as an adult.
Moving your body more regularly decreases your risk of developing diseases like coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer. It also helps you stay mentally healthy, improves your immune system and helps you maintain a healthy weight.
How much physical activity do teenagers need to do?
According to the official Australian guidelines for physical activity, teenagers should be doing at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day – that means activity that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe more quickly than normal. It doesn’t have to be one solid, continuous hour of activity – it can be little chunks of movement spread out over the day.
As well as moving more, it’s important to think about being ‘still’ less. Too much sedentary behaviour – sitting or lying down and not moving – isn’t great for your body. Try to break up long periods of sitting down by getting up and moving around every hour or so, and limit your use of electronic media (things like phones, computer games and TV) for entertainment to two hours a day or less.
If the above is starting to sound like an awful lot of moving every day, don’t stress. We’ve put together some tips to help make getting active as an adolescent easier, fitting movement right into your routine.
1. Think about physical activity, not just ‘exercise’
We hear a lot about exercise in the media. Whether it’s following a celebrity’s gym program to get ripped or ads for a new brand of active wear, exercise is something discussed a lot on TV, in magazines and across social media.
But physical activity doesn’t always have to be structured ‘exercise’. Technically, ‘exercise’ is any defined program where certain activities are planned and repeated over time (think bench presses, push-ups, running 5km or doing dance practice). But this kind of formal exercise is just one way to get your body moving. There are lots of other ways to move your body.
If the thought of pulling on active wear and hitting the gym doesn’t appeal to you, that’s totally fine. Having a dance to your favourite music, stand up paddle boarding, playing frisbee, taking the stairs instead of a lift or escalator, going rock climbing or heading into the great outdoors for a bushwalk with friends – all of these are different ways to get physically active.
2. Do what you enjoy
The key to getting in an hour of physical activity each day is to enjoy the time you spend moving your body. What things do you love to do that let you move your body?
If you’re stuck for ideas, here’s a list of some different activities you could try that will get you moving:
- take a drama class
- head to a trampoline centre, or jump on the backyard trampoline if you have one
- go rock climbing, indoors or outdoors
- brush off your compass and go orienteering
- go on a “photography walk”, taking photos of what you see as you explore your neighbourhood, or an area of your town
- try a yoga class
- pretend you’re Robin Hood and have a go at archery
- clean your room! (Yep – cleaning is actually a great workout and will get your parents off your back)
Want more ideas? Here are 30 fun ways to get 30 minutes of physical activity.
3. Don’t forget your muscles
Did you know that strengthening your muscles doesn’t just build your muscle mass? It also affects the health of your bones, increases your stamina, can help you have better posture and reduces your risk of injuries.
The Australian physical activity guidelines recommend doing activities that strengthen your muscles three times a week. This can include doing weights or using weight machines, bodyweight exercises like push ups, squats or chin ups, or less structured muscle building activities, like taking a gymnastics class, going kayaking or doing a rock climbing session.
The purpose of these activities isn’t to get super ripped – though that might be your personal goal – you’re just trying to build some muscle mass and keep your body strong and fit.
If you’re not familiar with muscle strengthening activities, talk to your GP or an Exercise Physiologist about where to begin. And remember – if you’re going to be lifting heavy weights, always have someone in the room with you to spot you.
4. Join a team, group or club
You’re more likely to enjoy getting active if you do it with friends. Whether that’s signing up for a sport team that your friends are on, or joining a new club or workout group and making new friends there, a group dynamic can keep you motivated to keep turning up and doing your best.
5. Make getting active part of your usual routines
If organised exercise or team sports are your thing, then getting active is probably already part of your routine, with scheduled training sessions or classes throughout the week. But if you’ve realised that being active isn’t a daily habit, it’s time to think about ways you can get active that slot in around your regular routine.
You might try walking or riding to school or work, organising a friendly game of handball at lunch or taking the dog for a walk every afternoon.