After my last blog about Teen Stress, I started thinking about the state of today's teens and their level of physical activity.  I was recently engaged in a conversation with other teen parents and there were some common issues being voiced.  One parent stated "Today's kids need to be outside playing more with the neighborhood kids instead of sitting inside all day on the computer and in front of the TV."  Then the "remember when's" started happening.  "Remember when we were kids?  We didn't have the gaming systems back then that they do now."  "Heck, my parents practically kicked us out house to go "play"."

"Stop right there" I thought, "is this true?"  Have our teens become more sedentary than in the past?  According to childhood obesity research, one would assume so.  Where have we failed our kids?  In looking at obesity statistics, our teens are unhealthier today than ever before.  According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity affects approximately 17% (12.5 million) of all children and adolescents in the US.  That's triple the rate from just one generation ago. 

Clearly, we need to do a better job at getting our youth active.  Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle but do you know all the benefits associated with it?  I turned to exercise physiologist and certified trainer, Chad Cannon, for the answer to this question. 

 "There are countless benefits associated with exercise. I could honestly write a full book on that subject alone. However, just to name a few, especially when it comes to youth the benefits of exercise can consist of increased energy, mental focus, and self esteem, and overall mood. Exercise also decreases depression and stress levels that are vital in our teen/adult years. Let's not forget to mention all the health benefits such as a decrease in risk of heart disease, and osteoporosis. Exercise also improves digestion, and can enhance the quality of sleep. Exercise is a big factor when it comes to controlling weight, and improving the overall look of the body. Muscle tone, flexibility, and strength will improve as well as other areas we cannot see such as cardiovascular improvement.  And to be completely honest the list goes on and on."

*Chad's top five tips for a teen wanting to get into shape:

1. Get out of your comfort zone! Doing something you wouldn't normally do or even something that you might think is impossible or even a bit scary. This is great for the psyche of a teen. Examples include running a distance race or white water rafting. At least once per month, do an activity that is safe, but completely out of your comfort zone.

2. Do some kind of activity every day. It's good to alternate between cardiovascular exercise and some type of resistance exercise. So one day go for a 30 minute power-walk, while the next day do 20 push-ups, 20 squats, 20 chair dips, 20 lunges, and 20 crunches.

3. Play a sport! Even as adults people want to play sports. As a teen it's a MUST! It doesn't matter if you are good or not, but get out there on your school or club team and give 100% effort. Just try to improve yourself every day.

4. You must eat something every 3-4 hours!!! One of the most important steps in keeping a fast metabolism is stabilizing pancreatic hormones so you can begin releasing stored body fat. Eating small meals frequently throughout the day helps provide a consistent supply of energy signaling your body that it no longer needs to store fat.

5. You must provide your body with adequate rest! If you're not getting 6-8 hours of sleep each night you're significantly limiting your ability to lose body fat and develop lean muscle. Not getting enough sleep will cause a stress response in your body and raise cortisol hormone levels. This will make it very difficult to release stored body fat and allow for muscle re-growth and recovery. Many teens have trouble getting enough rest, so this is a very important one.

Chad Cannon is an Exercise Physiologist and certified trainer, and owner of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Center in Hilton Head, SC.

*Before beginning any exercise or dietary program, please consult with a physician.

Just recently, Childhood Obesity released a study that showed teens can actually help their peers get into shape.  Teens used education and mentoring to teach healthy lifestyle changes.  Results indicated teens who participated in the program experienced healthier eating habits and increased physical activity.   The researchers concluded that, "peer educators hold promise for improving high school students' diets and physical activity."

There is light at the end of the tunnel.  According to a new poll, there are fewer overweight Americans today than in the past.  Unfortunately, the poll still shows that 35.8% of Americans are overweight or obese.  Although, as a nation we still have a long way to go, it is promising to see the numbers go down for the first time in three years.

Want to know where your state ranks in obesity compared to others?  Visit the CDC's Childhood Obesity Map. Also, the CDC has a great tool, The BMI (Body Mass Index) Percentile Calculator for Child and Teen that helps calculate whether or not your teen is overweight or obese. 

So, back to the original question...  Are our teens becoming too sedentary?  As I was driving home in my neighborhood, I saw a group of teens walking down the street holding what appeared to be a couple of Smartphones.  All of the teens were engrossed in whatever was on the screen laughing and talking.  I drove a little farther and saw a teen sitting outside on the curb with his ear buds plugged into his I-Pad.  Then, I looked up and saw a child of about 8, riding down the sidewalk on his bike, no ear buds, Smartphone, or I-Pad just a bike, helmet and an imagination. 

"Geez," I thought, we need to put down the gadgets for a while and get our teens moving; whether it's tossing a ball, playing a sport, or going for a brisk walk.  Bottom line, we need do a better job of teaching our teens the importance of being "fit for life".

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