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Exercise: Teen Version

Why should I exercise?

Exercise has many benefits. It can:

  • Increase your strength and energy
  • Lift your mood when you feel down
  • Make your body look better and more toned
  • Help you maintain a healthy weight or lose excess body fat
  • Help you sleep
  • Improve how you feel about yourself
  • Help keep your bones strong throughout your lifetime
  • Prevent diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease

How much should I exercise?

Try to exercise at a moderate level for at least 60 minutes most days of the week. Try to do vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 times a week. Starting slow and building up to this is just fine. Always drink water before, during, and after exercise.

Muscles that are warmed-up before exercise are more flexible and less likely to be injured. Brisk walking, easy jogging, or jumping jacks are good ways to get your muscles warm and ready to go.

After your muscles are warmed up, you may also want to stretch. Some people feel better if they stretch before and after exercise. Stretching after exercise is more important than stretching before exercise. It decreases the risk for being sore or injured.

It's a good idea to have a physical exam before you start a new exercise program, especially if you have any medical problems. If you are sick, in pain, or tired, take a couple of days off from exercising. The goal is to get healthier with exercise, not to burn out or hurt yourself. If you get injured, see your healthcare provider to make sure that it is not more serious than it looks.

What kind of exercise is best for me?

There are 3 main types of exercise: aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching. All are important for good health.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise works your heart and gets your muscles to use more oxygen. After a time, your heart will get stronger and able to deliver oxygen to your muscles more easily. This is what is known as "getting into shape." Start slowly. If losing weight is your goal, do some type of aerobic activity most days, plus adding a few days of strength training.

Most school sports are aerobic and can give you plenty of exercise several times a week. Tennis, hockey, soccer, basketball, volleyball, and track are all good examples of aerobic sports. Other aerobic exercises you can do on your own include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Biking
  • In-line skating
  • Skateboarding
  • Swimming
  • Hiking and climbing
  • Dancing
  • Using gym equipment such as a treadmill, stair-stepper, stationary bike, or elliptical trainer
  • Aerobic exercise classes

Strength Training

When you work your muscles, they get stronger and able to work longer without getting tired. Stomach muscles support the back, so strengthening this area is really important. One of the greatest benefits of strength training is that it helps you burn more energy when you are at rest. Muscle mass burns more calories than fat so as your muscle increases so does your ability to burn calories. You should do strength training 3 times per week. There are lots of options:

  • Weight training (make sure you are trained to lift right to avoid injury)
  • Using your body for resistance (push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, squats, sit-ups, and crunches)
  • Interval training where you switch between exercising hard and then resting (running hard for a short time and then walking then running hard again)


Being flexible makes it easier to do many activities and also decreases risk for getting hurt. If you warm up before exercise and stretch after exercise, you will not be as sore. You can also do simple stretches before and after sports or other aerobic activities. There are also other activities that improve your flexibility such as:

  • Yoga
  • Dance
  • Pilates (an exercise routine that builds strength and flexibility)

How do I choose the exercise that is best for me?

If you haven't been active lately, your goal is to get started doing something physical every day. Give your lungs, heart, and muscles time to adjust. Think about your style. Do you like organized activities or exercising on your own? Do you need someone or something to help motivate you? If so, sign up for a class or workout with a friend or family member. Do something you enjoy. If you choose something you don't really like, you won't stick with it. To avoid getting burned out, do a variety of activities.

What if I'm not comfortable exercising in public?

If you would like to exercise, but would rather get in shape in private there are some good options. You can:

  • Buy exercise equipment for your home.
  • Take private lessons from a personal trainer at a health club or recreation center.
  • Use exercise videos, DVDs, and CDs. Try to choose those that have instructors with degrees in fitness or exercise physiology. Not all instructors put safety first.

If you are severely overweight or you have other health problems such as high blood pressure, be sure to speak with your parents and healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.

What else can I do to improve my fitness?

Limit "screen time" to 2 hours or less per day. This includes TV, computer, video games, cellphone and iPad apps, and watching DVDs and movies. These activities are all fun and you don't have to give them up, but don't let them take the place of physical activities. Also try to limit the sweets, sodas, and high-fat fast foods you eat. Making healthier food choices can really improve your sports performance and help to maintain a healthy weight.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-05-29
Last reviewed: 2012-05-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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