Exercise for Adolescents

The dramatic physical changes that take place around puberty can affect a growing child’s performance in sports and games. At the same time, changes in attitude may cause teenagers to abandon favourite childhood activities or to become self-conscious and avoid sociable games. Understanding and encouragement from parents is therefore particularly important at this stage.

Exercise and development

A growth spurt usually occurs in girls between the ages of 10-12 and in boys between the ages of 12-14. It is after this growth spurt that girls usually start menstruating, although a certain amount of body fat must be laid down in order for this to happen. Girls who lack the requisite amount of body fat – because they over-exercise, for example – may experience a delayed menarche (the first menstrual period).

After puberty, boys gain strength and lose body fat and girls continue to gain fat, especially around the hips, thighs and abdomen. Teenagers of both sexes often drop out of physical activities because they feel self-conscious about their new body shape. They may also neglect sporting activity as they become more interested in the opposite sex, fashion and music. Teenage girls, in particular, often have extremely low levels of activity. This can cause weight problems, which some girls try to resolve by unhealthy dieting. Adolescents need to be informed about the impact of exercise on the body and how dieting can be counterproductive in the long term.

Suitable activities

Teenagers can follow an adult exercise programme, making sure that they warm up and cool down correctly.

Encouraging activity

Teenagers need every encouragement to stay active, as loss of fitness will eventually lead to loss of health, especially if inactivity persists into adulthood. Long-term in-activity can be prevented by the introduction of new activities, such as the martial arts, which have an added spiritual dimension, or adventure sports that bring more excitement and street-credibility, such as white-water rafting, rock-climbing or snowboarding. At this time, adolescents may also find their interest in social sports, such as football, basketball, netball and rugby, renewed as they graduate into adult teams. For teenagers who dislike team sports, dancing can be a sociable, enjoyable way of exercising.