Excuses from teenagers not to exercise come thick and fast when it is rainy and cold outside and the homework is piling up. But when the summer holiday’s perfect weather entices them off the couch, away from the TV and out of the house, experts say it is the ideal time to give them “a taste” of fun-focused, kilojoule-burning recreational activities that could turn into a year-long habit, boosting fitness, improving mental health and preventing chronic disease.
Alarmed by WA research estimating only 10 per cent of girls in high school and 38 per cent of boys manage to get the one hour a day of exercise recommended to maintain good health, Heart Foundation director of cardiovascular health Trevor Shilton is urging teenagers across the State to commit to trying two or three new recreational activities or exercise programs before the start of classes again in February.
Data from the Physical Activity Taskforce Child and Adolescent Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey had pinpointed it was at the teen transition points — the move from primary school to high school, from lower school to upper school or high school to university or the workforce — that the risk intensified that teenagers would abandon exercise and sporting programs. “Teenagers have a lot going on in their life and there are a lot of pressures on their time, ” Mr Shilton said. “They are getting their first part-time job, doing exams and maybe getting a boyfriend or girlfriend.”
“And it is intriguing that often there is a perception among parents, and perhaps even in schools as well, that somehow magically when teenagers turn 15 physical activity and exercise is not as important any more.
“We need to realise that life balance is really important for teenagers, too. Most of those who are active report that they actually study better, that they are more focused, that their mind is sharper and that they sleep better.”
Exercise needed to be formally slotted into the teenage timetable, said Mr Shilton, as research showed physical activity for transport had dropped off to only 10 minutes a day of walking and cycling. On top of that, big increases in time spent in front of the TV or computer for gaming and social media had led to 83 per cent of high school girls and 79 per cent of boys exceeding the recommendation of less than two hours a day of recreational electronic media (not counting homework or school work). As a result, experts were worried about the physical, mental and social health risks that came from spending too many hours sitting and too many hours alone.
“When it comes to exercise motivation, what teenagers are generally seeking is a social opportunity and enjoyment, ” said Mr Shilton. “They prefer things to be inexpensive and accessible and not necessarily competitive.
“The data also shows that girls are dropping out of organised activity, up to the age of 17. But they still want to belong to something .”
Nature Play WA chief executive Griffin Longley said he believed improvements in teenage physical activity rates would come from the early linking of exercise with embracing the joy of being outdoors.
“We need to find ways to make activity part of kids’ normal lives, rather than separating it off as something that only happens when they are wearing their sport socks and there is an adult nearby with a whistle in their mouth, ” he said.
© The West Australian
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