The road to fitness starts with a goal–and a plan. Here’s how to make sure you reach the finish line.
Which of the following do you think the majority of teens do nearly every day?
- Use a computer
- Eat fast food
- Play video games
All of the above? You’re close but not correct. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about one-quarter of Americans age 12 to 21 walk, bike, or do some other type of light to moderate exercise daily.
So, if you’ve been feeling like a couch potato lately, you’re not the only one. But think about this: You probably know that exercise helps keep your bones, muscles, and joints healthy and strong, and that it can help you control your weight. But did you know that exercise also can help you sleep better, ward off sickness, increase your energy, and help you deal with stress? Teens who work out regularly also report feeling more confident and ready to enjoy life.
Ready to get moving? Picture yourself biking the road to fitness. Along the way you can expect some hills and some flat and easy stretches. But before hopping on that bike, you need to create a fitness “map.”
Mapping Your Goals
Think about what you want to accomplish. Weight loss, muscle tone, flexibility, overall fitness, preparation for an upcoming sports season, and increased energy and stamina in daily life are possibilities. Narrow your list to one or two goals to concentrate on. Start with too many and you may not accomplish any! Your goals determine how often you need to exercise, as well as how long and intense to make each workout.
Be realistic. According to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, fitness is influenced by age, gender, heredity, personal habits, exercise, and eating habits. While you can’t change the first three factors, you have the power to change and improve the others.
Don’t expect to be anyone but you. Fourteen-year-old Christina, who lives in Tampa, Florida, says she “gave up trying to be skinny months ago.” Her goals are to build muscle, have more energy, and look and feel more fit.
Now decide on a time frame for your goal–remembering that it usually takes six to eight weeks to see results from a program. For weight loss, you don’t want to lose more than 2 pounds per week.
What small steps will help you reach your goal? If your goal is to tone your arms, you might aim to build endurance by walking with wrist weights, then challenge yourself by increasing the distance or speed over the next weeks. Next you might purchase hand weights for strength-training exercises, and, over time, use heavier weights and increase the number of repetitions.
Last but not least, decide how you’ll reward yourself for meeting each goal.
Starting Your Journey
In planning your fitness adventure, decide what types of activities will help you meet your goals. Most programs include aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching. To maintain your health and stay in shape, you should work out three to four days a week for 20 or more minutes. More intense programs include four or more days a week for 45 minutes or more. Plan on at least one day of rest a week.
Decide where you’ll work out: home, outdoors, at the gym, etc. Then choose a combination of fun activities, Christina’s routine, for example, includes rollerblading, walk-jogs (especially after dinner, with her dog), strength training with her mom, crunches, push-ups, and kick-boxing videos. She finds the videos really help to relieve stress: “I pretend I’m punching away all my annoyances from that day.”
Put some thought into when you’ll work out, too. Working out in the morning makes many people feel more alert during the day. (Studies have shown that early birds are more likely to stick to their programs, too.) Whenever you decide to work out, make exercise one of your top priorities.
Climbing the Hills
Just as you’ll encounter hills on a bike ride, you’ll find that you don’t always coast through your exercise program. Here are some common pitfalls and tips for conquering those “hills”:
* No time. Can’t squeeze a complete workout into your overpacked schedule? Consider this: A study found that people trying to lose weight could break workouts into, segments as short as 10 minutes throughout the day and still have the same success as those who were able to complete their workouts all at once. Work to incorporate exercise into your daily life. While talking on the phone or watching television, for instance, you could stretch or do legs lifts. Or, instead of chatting on the phone at all, you can meet your friend outside and take a power walk.
* Boredom. According to the American Council on Exercise, it may be time to shake up your routine when you start to cut or skip your workouts. Try modifying your program — such as switching from step aerobics to cardiofunk. If that doesn’t motivate you, challenge yourself with an activity you never thought you would try. Or, if you usually work out alone, try a team sport or join a local biking club, tennis league, or other group activity. Better yet, find a workout buddy–you can each come up with workout ideas. Seventeen-year-old Kelly, from Houston, Texas, likes to work out with her brother, a personal trainer, who helps keep her motivated.
* Change in seasons or weather. Always have alternate activities in mind for those rainy or cold days. Replace your usual run with a power walk around the mall or with jumping rope at home.
* Injury or illness. Don’t assume that your exercising days are over if you get hurt or sick and can’t stick to your regular routine. Kelly recently broke her ankle and tore her Achilles tendon. “I can’t run … until it heals,” she explains, “but I do walk, bike, and do weights.” If you are being treated for illness or an injury, ask your doctor to help you come up with a modified program that’s right for you.
With goals in mind and a plan in place, you’re on the road to fitness success. “You just have to keep telling yourself that it’s possible,” says Diana, a 14-year-old from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, whose goals are to lose a little weight, get toned, “and stick to it.”
Bummed out when you have gym class? If you don’t like taking phys ed, you may be setting yourself up for an inactive lifestyle as an adult.
A recent national survey of young adults ages 18 to 34 explored their attitudes about high school sports and fitness activities. Some key findings:
- 33 percent said physical education classes encouraged them to be active later in life. Of those who are currently “very active,” 60 percent said they were encouraged by gym class.
- 53 percent believe high school gym improved their physical condition.
- Only 16 percent thought the classes were a waste of time.
If you dread gym, strive for a new attitude. You might learn a new sport. You can clear your mind of the day’s stress. Have fun. You may even take yourself to a whole new level of confidence when you score on the court or field.
Back on track
There are lots of reasons you might break from your exercise routine, but there are also lots of reasons to overcome the slump. What might each of the following teens do to get back on track?
Bill has always loved the thrill of sports competition, especially basketball. But last year he suffered a serious leg fracture. His doctor said, “No more basketball.” Now he hasn’t exercised in months.
Sandy and Missy are doubles tennis partners. Their goal is to beat their biggest rivals this upcoming season, which starts in eight weeks. They haven’t played since last summer, but a dismal, snowy winter has left them unable to practice.
Kevin used to work out at the gym, but lately he hasn’t had time. He’s saving for his first car, and that means working at his part-time job after school and on Sundays. On Saturdays, he baby-sits his 5-year-old brother–who can never sit still. He’s exhausted.
What pitfalls have you had in starting a fitness program or in meeting your fitness goals? How might you get back on track?