“Many children also come home to a house where both parents may not have yet arrived home from work,” Harrison said. “The result, very often, is gaming on computers and watching TV, which are very often accompanied by eating unhealthy snacks.”
This lack of movement is concerning, experts say, and not just from a weight perspective. In addition to improving your heart, muscle, bone and metabolic health, regular exercise helps improve your coordination and agility, and the resulting increased blood flow is helpful to the brain, too.
“Studies have shown that kids involved in daily physical activity do better overall with attention and focus, which translates into better academic performance,” she said. “It also helps with impulse control and better management of emotions.”
Ways to boost physical activity
How do you get your teen to bust a sweat? While it can often be a challenge, there are many ways to introduce more physical activity into children’s lives.
Make motion a fun, social experience
“Focus on fun,” Harrison said. “With most kids, fun is a necessary ingredient.” So is the social aspect. “Studies have shown that the No. 1 reason most adults start and continue an exercise program is the social component,” she said. “Kids are the same.”
Consider organized sports
Organized sports are good at helping teens build social connections and learn perseverance and teamwork. But some programs are more focused on winning and less on nurturing skills. If your teen is eager to master a particular sport, a competitive program might be a great fit. But teens who are in organized sports for the fun and socialization may prefer a less-competitive environment.
And be aware coaches play a big role in a team’s activity level, said Jennifer Agans, an assistant professor in the department of recreation, park and tourism management at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania. Some run less-active practices, where players might spend a lot of time listening to instructions or waiting in line to take their turn in a basketball shooting drill.
Think outside the box
Not all kids are going to enjoy organized sports, especially if they are not competitive. But maybe they would enjoy rock climbing, skateboarding or the performing arts. “My entry point was youth circus,” Agans said, “and trapeze is a growing youth activity today.”
Sneak it in
Exercise doesn’t strictly equal with sports. Chores burn calories, for example, so assign your kids the age-appropriate ones that require the most movement. Think mowing the lawn or vacuuming versus dusting or drying the dishes. Creating a garden is another good option, Harrison said, as gardens involve planting, watering, pulling weeds and more.
Competitions can also promote activity. Challenge your teen to see who can run the fastest, do the most sit-ups or walk the most steps every day or week. Use small gifts as a reward. And don’t overlook volunteer work, which often involves a lot of motion. Perhaps they can participate in a trail-building event or assist someone in packing and moving boxes.
Be tuned in to your teen
If teens suddenly show no interest in an activity they normally enjoy, sit down for a talk. Maybe their lack of interest in swimming is because they are suddenly embarrassed to be seen in a swimsuit, Agans said. Or perhaps they want to drop out of soccer because a new teammate is making fun of them, or they don’t have a friend on the team this year.
“Interpersonal constraints like these can stop people from doing activities they like to do,” she said, so don’t assume your teen has suddenly lost the motivation to move. Something else could be going on.
Point out the positives
“Kids can learn to be excited to move,” Agans said. “We need to set them on a path where they have a foundation of enjoyment with movement that will get them to seek out activity as young adults.”