Early adolescence is when the differences in youngsters’ size, strength and coordination are the most pronounced. Not coincidentally, this is also the stage that separates the athletes from the non-athletes.
Often teens, regardless of their physical development or athletic prowess, lose interest in sports—at least school sports—around this time. They might be turned off by the more competitive atmosphere or the strict discipline that many coaches demand. Or perhaps they aren’t passionate enough about any one sport to commit themselves to daily practices after school. Fifty percent of high-school students choose not to join a team.
All boys and girls, whether they play a sport or not, can keep themselves in shape by following the national fitness plan devised by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Healthy People 2010” calls for thirty minutes of moderate exercise a day. What type of exercise? That’s up to your son or daughter. “The best exercise,” says pediatric cardiologist Dr. Gene Luckstead, “is one that a teenager enjoys enough to stick with.” The only prerequisite is that the activity burn approximately 150 calories per day, or 1,000 calories per week.
“I encourage kids to take up ‘lifetime sports,’ ” continues Dr. Luckstead, who is also a sports medicine specialist who has been a team physician for twenty five years at the junior-high, high-school and college levels. “Lifetime sports” include walking, jogging, bicycling, skiing, skating, swimming, golf, tennis, racquetball, martial arts—recreational activities that, for the most part, can be performed alone or with just one partner. Many people find that it is more fun to exercise with someone else.
Shooting hoops is one example of a moderately intense exercise. More demanding pursuits, like rumbling up and down the court in a game of basketball, can achieve the desired results in shorter sessions. Any activity involving movement qualifies as exercise. That includes household chores.