Exercise and Adolescents: 5 Reasons Why It’s So Important
Erik Johnson, Nakoa Performance Coaching Director, Pacific Ridge Head Strength Coach
Most of us would agree that exercise is important; whether we put theory into practice or not is another story entirely. Physical activity has special importance and benefits for adolescents, not just for their physical well-being, but for their emotional state as well. Here are five scientific reasons why:
Exercise helps to release endorphins, aka the “happy chemicals” that the body produces naturally. While you may feel worn out after an exercise session, there is also a sense of accomplishment and a natural high that you get when you exert yourself physically. With the wide range of ups and downs teenagers experience due to puberty and hormonal fluctuations, some happy feelings are definitely an amazing side effect to exercise.
Exercise, when done properly and not to an extreme, can help to reduce cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress. Adolescents deal with demanding school schedules, sports and/or other extra-curricular demands, as well as all of the trials and tribulations of dealing with peers, social media and other modern stressors. Exercise is a way to naturally reduce or alleviate stress and should be a welcome respite to these demands.
Exercise and physical activity also help to stimulate the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is responsible for improving mood. If you are a parent dealing with adolescent mood swings, I’m assuming you would be on board with the ability to positively improve mood.
Improved sleep is a great byproduct of exercise and physical exertion. Exercise is a safe and effective outlet for energy, and whether teens like to admit it or not, sleep is an important aspect of personal health during this time of maturation. Sleep is also the time when the body recovers from the stresses and demands of the day, so quality, deep sleep is necessary for improved mental health, focus and stress management.
According toa Canadian study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, students who play team sports in grades 8 through 12 have less stress and depression as young adults. Teens who play sports also gain confidence, critical-thinking and judgment skills, as well as increased cognitive function. As with most everything, balance is crucial in maintaining and achieving the positive side effects associated with sport and teams. Too much demand (from parents, coaches, or the athletes themselves) and training specificity from too young of an age are two major causes of burnout, which can lead to increased injury risk as well as negative associations to that activity. For parents, it is about helping your teen find the right balance, avoid those extremes, and recognize when those influences may be negatively impacting them.
All it takes for adolescents to reap the emotional and neurological benefits listed above is to participate in sports and/or physical activity for as little as 30-45 minutes, 3-5 times per week. Add in the fact that sport and exercise tend to lead to better self-esteem and body positivity, and you have a strong case to encourage adolescents to pick up and/or stay with those activities in these formative years. Hopefully, a positive experience with exercise in adolescence will build a foundation of balance, health and wellness as they transition to college and beyond.