For a variety of reasons teens are less active than they were just a generation ago, and it shows. Rates of obesity and chronic illness, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, have skyrocketed among teens. Exercise can be an important part of reversing these dangerous health trends.

Several studies offer evidence that exercise also contributes significantly to mental health in teens. Most recently, researchers from the Netherlands found that teens (ages 11-16) who engaged in regular physical activity had more positive self-image and esteem than those that didn’t. The physically active teens performed better academically and were less likely to engage in troublesome behavior, too. Taken alone any of these findings offer a strong case for regular exercise. Taken together they make a case that is pretty hard to ignore. Help your teen develop strong fitness habits that can last a healthy lifetime. Here is how to get started.

Talk to your teen about the importance of protecting physical health with exercise. Better yet, show as much as you tell. Show your teen you value fitness by working to become fit yourself.

  • Many teens are overscheduled. Help your teen find time in his or her schedule to incorporate at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least every other day.
  • Consider a family membership at the gym. It is surprisingly affordable to include members of one household on one plan.
  • Encourage your child to join a team sport or use technology (Wii fit) that requires movement.
  • Brainstorm with your teen about fitness interests. For example, your daughter might enjoy soccer or biking. Look for ways to encourage your teen make the leap from what she would like to do – I would like to try kickboxing – to actually doing it.

Your teen’s fitness routine need not be elaborate or expensive. There are countless ways to get his or her heart rate up that are both healthy and fun. For example, there is trampoline fitness, jump rope, a game of ball in the backyard, bike riding or even following fitness routines on television or the Internet. The goal is to help your teen develop a positive attitude toward regular physical activity. Fitness can be fun and is most likely to be so when you do what you like.

Although teens have the same need for regular exercise as adults it is important not to overdo it. For example, many races have age limits because of the strain distances can place on young bodies. Similarly, weight training may not be appropriate for young teens. Be sure to talk with your pediatrician before your teen begins any fitness routine. Concussions are increasingly common. Also talk with your pediatrician if your child exhibits any signs that concern you.

Finally, teens are notorious for staying up too late and rushing too much in the morning. Exercise too late in the day can further interrupt sleep patterns. Consider guiding your teen toward exercise in the morning – if awake – or soon after school. An added bonus – the physical exertion can help them settle down and get homework done more productively.