By Robert Reames, CSCS, *D, RTS1, CPT
It's a well-established fact that consistent exercise and sensible eating habits will enhance quality of life. As Dr. Phil says in The Ultimate Weight Solution, a common denominator among people who successfully manage their weight and stay fit is that they exercise as a matter of habit. The same holds true for teens. Our bodies are designed for locomotion. We all need to keep on moving.
As parents, we must pay close attention and set the example. It is vital that we teach and encourage our kids to stay active. It's no secret that a life of overeating, lack of physical activity and being lazy can lead to a host of physical and potentially life-threatening problems. Present couch potatoes make future couch potatoes. Active kids become active adults — plain and simple.
Exercising with our kids provides us as parents with a fantastic opportunity. It establishes a great sense of camaraderie, companionship and a time of bonding with our kids. This is valuable time spent. My wife used to jog with her dad in the mornings and/or after dinner. She maintains a healthy lifestyle, while her father is now 80 years old and still exercising three times per week. My father made me a weight bench out of wood. We would lift weights together twice a week. This inspired me and gave me a foundation to always include exercise in my life. Again, we as parents are setting the example by being positive role models and creating the image of health, fitness and wellness. And, you not only send your teen this positive message, but you stay fit yourself!
For example, you could set aside two hours per week as times that you and your child will exercise together. Key time periods are early in the morning (before school and work), in the evening just before dinner, or on weekends. I suggest that you "schedule" in these times, to make sure that nothing will interfere with your set workout plans. You may choose to do the same type of exercise. It's key to find activities that you enjoy, so you'll look forward to it and do them on a regular basis.
Some examples may include:
- Weight lifting or cardio work in your home gym
- Weight lifting or cardio work at the health club, recreation center or YMCA
- Playing catch or hitting fly balls or grounders at the park
- Shooting baskets or practicing another team sport like soccer or volleyball
- Taking a walk or jog
- Going to the track and practicing track events
- Heavy bag work or martial arts
- Tai Chi or Yoga
- Golf (walk the course)
- Aerobics class or tape
- Father/son or Mother/daughter church, recreation or sport leagues
You may have slightly different preferences, in which case you could even combine any of the above or other activities together. For example, dad is in the garage lifting weights, while son or daughter is on the treadmill, stationary bike or shooting hoops in the driveway. Or, mom and dad are doing yoga, while son or daughter is practicing on the heavy bag or running wind sprints. Then, you both go out for a walk/jog or bike ride to complete the workout.
The point is that you have set times to work out together. There is so much value in this time spent. Other workout times should be included during the week as well for both you and your teenager, either together or separately. Follow these workouts with a healthy meal or snack and talk to your kids about healthy nutrition and devoting time for exercise. For teens, a key time for exercise and physical activity is after school. Even with a boatload of homework, 30 minutes to an hour of some form of exercise will only enhance study time. Consistently parking in front of the TV or diving into the latest video game after school with a bag of Doritos and a tub of ice cream would not be my recommendation, nor is it a good pre-study regimen.
Many teens lose interest in sports or physical activity if they "don't make the team" or if they're consistently chosen last for a particular playground event. Schools and the media put a huge emphasis today on external motivation, being "an athlete," or competition, instead of focusing on the pure joy of exercise and sport along with the health and wellness benefits of leading an active lifestyle. There are only a select few who make the team. What about everybody else? More emphasis needs to be put on "personal best" and our own individual iimprovements. Be in competition with yourself. And sometimes teens will get discouraged if they don't live up to your standards as well. So make sure again that this is all in the name of fun, health, fitness and wellness — not some test or standard that you have unfairly set for your teen to live up to. Put the focus on being the best that you can be on a given day in an activity that you are passionate about.
If you think about it, you don't have health-conscious adults spending hours in the gym per week because they are the best treadmill walker or weight lifter in the facility. We don't join the summer softball league because we think we're Barry Bonds. We don't wait hours for a tennis court because we think we're Venus Williams, or ride a bike because we are entering the Tour de France. Adults are there to get a good workout, to be healthy and to improve quality of life. This is what we need to tell and teach our kids early on and not wait until there is a weight problem. Exercise and an active lifestyle needs to be a way of life, a mindset whether we "make the team" or not, and it's up to us as parents to establish this from the get go.
So, if you're an active adult, you've most likely given thought to this already. If not, I'd say this is the perfect time and opportunity to get it going and get moving. Not tomorrow, not next month, not when the weather gets better — the time is now.
Disclaimer: All information and answers are given for educational purposes only. Your individual needs may vary. Always consult with your physician before starting or changing any exercise fitness programs and activities.