DEAR MAYO CLINIC: When my daughter was young, she spent hours playing outside and running around. That happens a lot less now that she is a teen. I'm worried that she is not getting enough exercise. How much does she need each week, and do you have tips to motivate her to get moving?
ANSWER: As our children grow, many parents find it a challenge to get their teens moving. Their lives are busy, and what leisure time they have often is spent in front of a screen.
But just like adults, teens benefit in many ways from regular exercise. It builds endurance, bone and muscle strength, and aerobic fitness. Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight and improve sleep. These factors are critical as teens grow and develop during their formative years.
Exercise helps teens' mental health, as well. It releases stress-busting endorphins and lowers the body's production of stress hormones. It improves thinking and memory skills, which help in school and social situations. Exercise also reduces the risk of depression, and helps teens feel more energetic and have a positive outlook on life.
One of the biggest benefits of regular exercise for teens is that it establishes a healthy habit that sets the foundation for a lifetime of fitness. Research shows that active children and teens become healthy and active adults.
My patients motivated me to become more active. I was not a physically active teenager or adult. Watching my inactive patients struggle as they aged convinced me that I needed to do better. While I still don't love exercise, I now run regularly. And I feel much better. It would have been so much easier, though, if I had started 30 years ago.
So how much exercise does your teen daughter need? The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and teens 6 and older get at least an hour a day of exercise five to six days per week.
If your daughter participates in a sport, she is probably getting enough exercise each day. But if it is the offseason or she doesn't usually participate in sports, you may need to help her find some exercise or activity to do each week.
As part of the hour per day of exercise, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and teens incorporate these types of activities at least three days per week:
Motivating teens can be a challenge, but it is possible. Here are some tips if your teen appears to be interested in sitting more and exercising less:
Remember to check with your daughter's primary care provider about any concerns you have before she starts a new exercise program, especially if she has a chronic health condition, like epilepsy, diabetes or asthma. — Dr. Kimberly Beecher, Family Medicine, Mayo Clinic Health System, St. Peter, Minnesota