Motivating Teens to Get Moving

Motivating Teens to Get Moving

This article was originally written by Josh Trout, PhD in the Shape Up America! monthly newsletter:

Motivating Teens

Being physically active for at least 60 minutes every day is especially crucial for children struggling with weight issues. One of the goals of physical education teachers is to introduce children to a wide range of activities and skills so that each can find something physically active that they enjoy doing every day for the rest of their lives. Physical education teachers want youth to love and embrace physical activity.

Many overweight children report having bad experiences in physical education, not because of the curriculum, but because they are often concerned about how their peers perceive them in physical education. This can be a barrier to enjoying activity and can discourage participation. Overweight and obese youth carry social, psychological and emotional burdens that often lead to anger, despair, and ultimately, a sedentary lifestyle. One example is picking teams. Overweight youth dread being picked last, so a more sensitive approach is for an adult to set up the teams in advance to avoid a potentially humiliating experience.

Teens should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own health by making wise nutritional choices and engaging in the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. This does not necessarily mean joining a gym to attend high-intensity cardio-sculpting classes. Some research indicates that many overweight teens prefer to exercise in private so their peers do not see them. There are many activities that an emerging exerciser can participate in at home so that adopting healthier habits does not come with a social or financial price tag. It does, however, require active decision-making and personal goal setting. Some possibilities are exergaming (e.g., Nintendo® Wii™, Dance Dance Revolution) at home, renting a yoga DVD to follow in private, or even taking a peaceful nature hike.

If exercising with others is more motivating or just more fun, options include walking, jogging or bicycling with friends, taking classes such as martial arts or Yogalates (Yoga + Pilates), or even volunteering as a dog walker at the Humane Society. Teens should avoid anything that advertises a quick solution such as an exercise machine promising the body of your dreams in just a few weeks, a new diet that can shed 30 pounds in 30 days, or a pill that boosts your metabolism and claims to allow you to lose weight while you sleep or eat whatever you want. The vast majority of over-the-counter pills and supplements for weight loss are untested and ineffective; some are dangerous. Some exercise machines are expensive yet poorly designed, and consequently, are hard on your back. If you are determined to invest in a piece of exercise equipment, studies show that a treadmill is most likely to be of value in a home-based setting, but these studies have been conducted in adults and may not apply to teens.


Proper nutrition combined with daily physical activity is the safest, most effective long-term weight loss/maintenance plan. Weight loss goals vary slightly depending on a teen’s current weight category, but for those who need to lose weight, a reasonable goal is a gradual weight loss of about 1 pound per week. This may sound too slow for some, but consider this: With 52 weeks in a year, it is possible to lose 52 pounds by this time next year. If a person takes it slow and adopts healthier habits along the way, the weight loss achieved is more likely to be permanent.


The greatest weapon in battling the obesity epidemic is education. Overweight youth must learn what foods to choose, as well as the principles of portion control. Daily physical activity is simply a health requirement. Teens learn healthful practices from parents and teachers who value and role-model these behaviors. It is not unlike teaching children to buckle their seat belts, brush their teeth, or avoid tobacco; it is a lifestyle choice that must be taught by people who practice these behaviors. The human body is like a high-performance race car: If you fill it with low-quality fuel and park it, it will deteriorate. If it receives racing fuel and driving time on the track, it thrives. The human body also needs good fuel (proper nutrition) and movement (daily physical activity) to achieve and maintain optimal health and wellness throughout the lifespan. By learning these lessons, teens will be more likely to
achieve and maintain optimal health and wellness throughout their lifespan.

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