Back To The Basics: Why Your Teen Needs to Exercise (And What You Can Do About It)

Back To The Basics: Why Your Teen Needs to Exercise (And What You Can Do About It)


Current trends show that teens exercise less and sit more.

The problem is teenage girls need exercise more than ever.

Exercise gets kicked to the curb with screen time (Internet, Facebook, and TV) and demanding homework.

Another reason for the decrease in exercise is the super star syndrome. This is when teens quit exercising because they feel they can’t compete with the superstar dancers or athletes.

Girls start to associate exercise with competition, and if they don’t measure up they quit.

This has to be turned around.

Exercise is a necessity for all teens, not just the superstars. This is foundational for their physical and emotional health.

There are many benefits to exercise, that go far beyond the quest for the perfect body.

Better school performance

Exercise not only strengthens our muscles, but it builds better brains.

Recent studies show that forty minutes of vigorous exercise a day helps teens better organize their schoolwork and perform better in the classroom.

One reason for this is that they found that there was more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, also known as the seat of executive functioning. This helps teens with their working memory and planning. It also helps them stay alert and better focused.

Helps teens feel good

Exercise gives teens a natural high by increasing the four “feel good” body chemicals.

Most everyone has heard of the runners high, which is because exercise increases endorphins, the neurotransmitters linked to happiness and elevated mood.

Scientists also found that when the heart is pumping strongly, it increases the amounts of three neurotransmitters, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.

Dopamine is going to make your daughter feel happier and more optimistic.

Serotonin helps stabilize her mood which helps her relax and reduces negativity and aggression.

Norepinephrine gives her the energy boost needed to better focus and store and recall memory.

It’s a stress buster

There is a national epidemic pressing in on our teens. Our daughters are getting buried under a mountain of pressure, especially when it pertains to academics and college. It’s ten times the pressure we faced when we were teenagers.

The problem is that too much pressure is counterproductive. It decreases productivity and performance because it increases stress, anxiety, fear, and shame.

This catapults your daughter into a limbic state where the amygdala is on red alert. When this happens, the hypothalamus pumps excess adrenaline and cortisol through the body resulting in decreased concentration and increased edginess and anger. Your daughter is left with a cortisol and adrenaline hangover. To make things worse, cortisol is known as the fat chemical because excess cortisol makes it hard for your body to lose weight.

The good news is that thirty minutes of a cardio workout rids the body of excess adrenaline and cortisol for twenty-four hours!

In other words exercise rids the body of the stress and anxiety immediately, enabling your daughter to calm down and function at her best.

Proactive Strategies

  • Start small. Have your daughter set small goals and accomplish them. This can build momentum for bigger goals.
  • Model for your daughter. If you aren’t exercising then start. Be a role model for your daughter.
  • Bring back the fun in exercise.
  • Make it easy. Have a membership at the YMCA.
  • Think outside the box. Your daughter may “hate track” but expand her concept of exercise. Try a zumba class, ice skating, or water skiing.
  • Diversify. If she has only done team sports she can try individual sports. Also, besides cardio she can work on flexibility and balance like tae kwon do or yoga.
  • Make it social. Encourage your daughter to go to the gym with a friend.
  • Take the competition out of it. If your daughter quit the swim team because it was too competitive, she can still swim at the pool another time.
  • Put the competition into it. Many kids thrive with healthy competition.
  • Educate her about the benefits of 30-40 minutes of cardio a day. I found girls get motivated when they realize that exercise decreases stress and helps them feel good.
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