As a damning study reveals British children are among the least active in the world, we take a look at how children and teenagers should be exercising in order to match the recommended one hour a day as set by the World Health Organisation.
So how do you make sure your teens get into healthy habits that last from adolescence to adulthood? If you’re a parent wondering how you can help or a teenager who wants to get into sport but doesn’t know what to work on, read on...
Fitness tips for 11 to 16-year-olds
There are lots of reasons why children might become more sedentary at this stage: exams and academic burdens causing stress levels to mount, puberty and the accompanying hormonal changes reducing energy and motivation levels, a greater degree of self-consciousness and increasing pressure to look a certain way.
The key is to find what activities and sports they like doing. Nathalie Schyllert , personal trainer and director of operations at Bodyism , says: “The most important thing is that they need to enjoy the exercise. The early teen years are the best time to explore which activities and sports they like.”
Children’s fitness specialist Lucy Miller advises that it is important to get at least one hour’s exercise a day. This could be broken up into four 15-minute sessions or two 30-minute sessions.
Classes should focus on:
- Strength exercises using body weight to help build strong bones, ligaments and tendons;
- Endurance activities such as running, throwing and catching;
- Cardiovascular fitness to help boost stamina and metabolism;
- Flexibility (children tend to become less flexible during this period of rapid growth).
Nathalie points out that recent research suggests that teenagers shouldn’t lift weights that are too heavy, at least not before the age of 16, as bones and muscles are still developing. To increase strength, focus on exercises using their own bodyweight.
Fitness expert James Osborn warns of the risk of developing Osgood-Schlatter disease if too much is done too soon. This condition that affects the upper part of the shin bone, causing pain and swelling just below the knee, is particularly prevalent in under-16s. Ensure joints and muscles aren’t put under too much pressure to prevent burn-out and potential injury.
For older children, Lucy stresses the importance of warming up before training to ensure that enough oxygen gets to their muscles. At this stage, they become more independent in the way that they approach sport and so now is a great time to encourage them to start taking care of their own regimes. Lucy suggests getting someone to lead the warm-up and cool down, getting them more involved and giving them a better understanding of why they’re doing a particular stretch.
Girls will be feeling especially self-conscious during these years and so Lucy believes that it’s incredibly important to make sure that they are given plenty of positive feedback. These years are key to establishing a healthy body image. The need for girls to build strong bones is vital too, as 90 per cent of a woman’s peak bone mass is deposited by the age of 18.
Although the pressures are great, the good news according to Steve Mellor , Head of Fitness and Nutrition at Freedom2Train , is that exercising at this stage is a great way to relieve stress, release endorphins and boost confidence. It's also effective at counteracting the more problematic symptoms of puberty such as erratic moods, decreased motivation and flagging energy levels.
The best exercises and classes for young teens
Take advantage of the many extra-curricular activities offered by schools. Exercise is more structured and organised at this age which is ideal for satisfying the need to try out as many different types of sports as possible. But a word of caution here: Nathalie advises parents to beware pushing children into a particular sport as this can put children off. She also suggests incorporating physical activity into their everyday lives, such as walking or cycling to school and seeing friends.
Lucy Miller runs exercise classes for children in parks and is also available for home visits too, (visit www.lucymiller.me.uk for more details). She also conducts her own one-on-one sessions for teens. For girls, she highly recommends dance and yoga for developing flexibility and improving posture. For boys, football and rugby are great sports to get involved in for developing strength, improving hand-eye co-ordination and increasing overall cardiovascular fitness.
Fitness tips for 16 to 20-year-olds
Teenagers should look to build on their skills. As Steve Mellor points out: “From 16 years onwards, sport becomes a less compulsory part of the curriculum. Pupils will have more of a choice over whether they would like to exercise or not.” This is the time when teens are most likely to stop exercising as regularly, instead choosing to socialise and studying for exams.
Yet with increased competition to gain university places, many applicants are under more pressure than ever to demonstrate that they excel in both sports and school work. Parents have an important role here, Steve believes, in making sure that amid all the other pressures fitness isn't forgotten: “As there are a greater number of barriers to exercise at this age, there is more of a focus on the parents to instill good habits in their children and to urge them towards fitness. Once they stop, it’s so much harder for them to get back into it.”
Sport will also aid teens in developing the qualities that universities look for in successful applicants, such as good social and teamwork skills.