Fitness for Teens and Tweens

Help your teen get healthier and happier

Teen fitness - High school track athlete stretching
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We hear a lot about childhood obesity and physical activity, but teen fitness is just as critical for physical and mental health. Yet it doesn't get as much attention. Just like their parents and their little brothers and sisters, adolescents need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day to stay healthy. And just like adults and younger kids, teens often fail to meet this standard. (One study showed that less than 10% of high school students got their daily hour of exercise.)

But exercise has particular benefits for pre-teens and teens. It can:

  • Reduce anxiety, stress, and depression
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Boost academic performance
  • Help establish lifelong healthy habits

That's in addition to the way fitness helps teens manage their weight, build muscle strength and bone mass, and control blood pressure. Pretty convincing! But rates of physical activity tend to decline as kids get older. They're busier with school and friends, they are easily discouraged if they feel their performance doesn't measure up to their peers, and puberty can make them feel ashamed of their bodies.

Teen Fitness Options

How can parents help teens get more exercise? Since only a fraction of middle and high schools provide daily physical education classes (let alone recess!), pre-teens and teens need lots of opportunities for fitness outside of school hours. That could mean:

  • Team sports: For kids, this age, organized sports provide not only physical activity, but good friendships and lessons in teamwork, motivation, and staying organized. Most schools have many different sports options, both competitive and intramural. If your child's favorite isn't offered, check out recreational leagues and community centers.
  • Individual pursuits: Team play isn't for everyone. Some pre-teens and teens prefer activities they can practice on their own, such as running, biking, yoga, horseback riding, or board sports. If one of these is more your child's style, help her embrace and enjoy it! Even short bursts of intense exercise are beneficial.
  • Everyday play and movement: Outside of more organized workouts, plenty of other physical activities can contribute to meeting that daily 60-minute goal. Think housework, yard work, walking or biking to school, dancing, walking the dog, or playing tag with kids in the neighborhood.

Must-Dos for Parents

These four strategies can really help boost your teen's activity level. Work on integrating them into your daily habits.

  • Be a role model. Parents who are physically active tend to have kids who are active, too. Make time for exercise in your daily life and find family fitness activities to share. You might play tennis, take a dance class together, go for a bike ride, and so on. 
  • Support your teen's fitness endeavors. Yes, driving to practices and games can be a drag, but you may be able to set up a carpool with other parents. If equipment costs and team fees are prohibitive, talk with the coach or school guidance counselor about scholarships and sources for used gear. If you don't have a backyard or nearby park, consider a membership at a YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, or another fitness facility.
  • Celebrate your athlete's achievements. Tell your child how proud you are! Go to games and display trophies and medals. Kids notice.
  • Limit screen time, television, video games, tablet and smartphone play. It's not that these activities are necessarily harmful on their own. But too much sedentary activity (more than 2 hours a day) crowds fitness activities out of your child's schedule.
3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Li K, Haynie D, Lipsky L, Iannotti RJ, Pratt C, Simons-Morton B. Changes in Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity Among Older AdolescentsPEDIATRICS. 2016;138(4):e20161372-e20161372. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1372

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.

  3. American Heart Association. School Construction and Physical Education.

By Catherine Holecko
Catherine Holecko is an experienced freelance writer and editor who specializes in pregnancy, parenting, health and fitness.