We all know that exercise is a key ingredient to health. It’s very concerning then that, throughout adolescence, the amount of exercise that kids do decreases significantly overall. Even worse though is that it is much worse for girls than boys.
Early to mid-adolescence is a key time for learning skills. We usually think of brain development as something that happens in babies and small children. In fact, there is a burst of brain growth between the ages of 10 and 12, roughly. And for about the next four years, adolescent brains do some specialised development. Sometimes this is called neural pruning and sometimes it is called highways and byways.
Think of a lawn. Wherever people walk the most a well-developed track appears. Where some people walk sometimes a faint track appears. Where a few people walk occasionally, you won’t even be able to tell they have been there.
The brain is like that. Whatever you do most of, the brain develops short cuts to make it easier to do it better and more often. And the best shortcut development time is early to mid-adolescence. So, learn a language, learn to play a musical instrument, learn to choose healthy foods, learn to manage your own health, learn new technology, learn new sports, or learn to be a couch potato. Whatever you do most of during these years, you will find easiest to continue that pattern the rest of your life. You might move away but you can come back. If you learnt to play guitar at 14, you will find it easier to learn cello at 35. If you learned sports activities during that time and then gave them up, you can come back to them later and you will find it much easier than someone who was not physically active in their teens.
Keeping Teens Active
So, don’t let your early teens drop out if you can possibly help it. Tell them when they get their Ls they can cut down their sport. Giving them concrete timelines helps. And how do you keep them in? Exercise with them. Start as early as possible. Get Dad involved! There is heaps of evidence that involved Dads increase activity in boys. Now we also know that involved Dads improve activity rates and skills in girls too.
The DADEE (Dads and Daughters Exercising and Empowered) program in Newcastle (http://www.dadee.net.au/) has been a world first, ground-breaking program to halt the decline of physical activity in girls and improve the father-daughter relationship. Have a look at this news report from 2016
Mums and Dads need to be exercising, not just to be good role models to their kids, but to manage their own health – physical and mental. Parenting is hard work and you need to be fit to manage it well. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles too. The more of us who get involved and exercise with our kids, the healthier (physically and mentally) and more long lived our kids will be.
Aim to be a family that stays healthy physically, socially and mentally. The difference that getting active together will make to your family will astonish you.