We all know how important it is to be physically active. We know exercise improves cardiovascular fitness, builds muscle and bone strength, and helps us live longer. The links between exercise and good mental health are well established. The social attributes of “giving it your best”, “being a team player”, and “good sportsmanship” are lauded in our society. Why then, can it be so hard to get up and do something active, with our best intentions frequently falling by the wayside? And why is it that many young people who were actively involved in organised sport during primary school, do less and less exercise as teenagers? There are many reasons adolescents begin to “drop” sport, including changing bodies, peer pressure and societal expectations, and just plain boredom or lack of interest. You may need to think outside the parameters of traditional team and individual sport to get regular exercise happening. Here are a few ideas worth considering…
- The most important thing for parents to remember is that children pick up habits from you, so make sure you practise what you preach! Think of physical exercise as an opportunity to spend quality time with your teen: walk the dog together or organise a monthly family outing hiking in the mountains or walking along the beach.
- If an adolescent is sensitive about their body shape or stature, consider sports or activities that use similar skills, but where a preferred body shape / size is not so critical to success. Changing to circus skills, trapeze or diving may appeal to a girl who has grown “too tall” or become “too muscly” for traditional gymnastics or ballet, or a switch from Rugby to AFL may suit a tall, gangly boy who is always likely to struggle as a front row forward.
- If a lack of reward, success and acknowledgement is discouraging, try re-framing the definition of “success”. Achievement can be measured in many ways: mastery of a new skill, completion of an event, a new personal best, total steps taken with a pedometer, pulling in the largest number of sponsors or achieving a particular fund-raising goal.
- Sometimes the realisation that a goal is out of reach may lead people to think their time has been wasted, and that any further effort will be similarly wasted. All those lonely early morning starts and time spent toiling endlessly up and down the swimming pool do not need to lead only to being school champion or a member of the Olympic swim team — they can set a path toward socially rewarding activities such as surf lifesaving, team sports such as water polo, part time jobs or even careers as swim instructors, life guards or coaches.
- Link other interests to physical activity. Feel the need to learn relaxation, pursue spirituality, or to simply alleviate back and shoulder pain from hours of study? Try yoga or Pilates. Keen interest in environmental causes and conservation? Think about hiking, orienteering or volunteer bush care regeneration. Love animals and want to be a vet? Consider horse riding or become a paid holiday dog walker. Absorbed by fantasy novels and on-line role-playing games? Give fencing or archery a go.
- If playing soccer or tennis is no longer “cool”, look for an activity that has a bit of street cred — perhaps surfing, skate or snowboarding, or maybe mountain biking or parcours (free running and street acrobatics).
- When boredom is the killer, add some variety to the routine. Maybe Zumba instead of Jazz classes for a few weeks, hike in the mountains or stroll along the beach for a change from the local park, or get hold of an app like Zombies, Run! to really shake up the morning jog.