Give them a head start
DR. SHEELA NAMBIAR
Here's how you can get a teenager to enjoy fitness as a lifestyle.
Photo: K.R. DEEPAK
Staying fit can be fun too....
I f asked what is the most important ingredient required for a teenager to stay fit, I would probably say, parents who are fit; parents who genuinely understand the true meaning of fitness and work towards it themselves. I am often faced with mothers who bring their overweight daughters to me, (usually driven by a diagnosis of PCOD with recommendations to lose weight) claiming the girl needs to exercise and lose weight but does not “listen” to the parent. When asked if the mother exercises, she is aghast! Why should she? She is fairly slim, she doesn't have PCOD, doesn't need to have any more children so she doesn't believe there is a need. Does the father exercise? Of course not! He is too busy working, lunching with business colleagues, travelling on work… As far as the mother is concerned, their exercise routine is irrelevant. Does this sound familiar?
Globalisation and improving economy have made food choices abundant and lifestyles more sedentary. New problems now face the generation Y. Higher stress levels, obesity and a future promise of degenerative diseases like diabetes. All this sets the stage for a poorer quality life if the youth don't pay attention to health, nutrition and exercise from a very early age.
Time constraints seem to be a rule even for the younger generation, what with abundant academic work, computer games, and television soaps; exercise is banished to the back burner. In general, physical activity levels are abysmally low; it is therefore imperative that every one, young or old, includes structured exercise into their day.
The teenage years are particularly important to build a strong foundation and understanding of health and fitness.
Weight training can be started as early as 14 years under supervision. Improper lifting technique may lead to epiphyseal injury and needs to be guarded against. Avoiding power lifting and competitive body building sport is recommended until skeletal maturity is reached.
Flexibility, proper body alignment, posture and muscle imbalances can all be addressed early with the appropriate combination of aerobic, strength training, core conditioning and stretching.
Aerobic training is crucial to help build stamina and control body weight. Obesity in childhood and youth has ominous repercussions in the future. Besides being a precursor to diabetes and cardiovascular disease, obesity is directly linked with infertility, degenerative disorders of the joints, asthma, sleep apnea and even some forms of cancer.
Do overweight parents play a role in obesity of the child? Although there may be a genetic basis for obesity, environmental factors like lifestyle, food choices and regular exercise seem more important.
Parents leading by example may be the best way to encourage the youth to live healthier lives. Having an unfit parent instruct the child to exercise sends the wrong message. “Practise what you preach” is the adage one should live by especially when disciplining offspring. It also happens that life is easier on a daily basis for young people surrounded by health-conscious parents who stock healthy snacks like roasted peanuts/soy nuts instead of chips, who diligently include exercise into their own day, eat consciously and don't spend hours in front of the television mindlessly stuffing their faces. Exercise and healthy eating become a ‘way of life' for them. This then carries into adulthood.
Another very real problem faced by teenagers, particularly in affluent families, is the rising incidence of eating disorders. Perhaps as a result of peer pressure and the glossy (sometimes Photoshop modified) pictures of thin and beautiful people staring at you from magazine covers, teenagers are driven to extreme measures to keep pace with “thinness”.
Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that is said to afflict about two per cent of teenagers in affluent society, more commonly in women. It is dangerous and sometimes fatal. The individual has a distorted body image, believing she is heavier than she really is. She starves herself endlessly, exercises to extreme measures, is afraid to eat and develops deficiencies of vital nutrients and eventually cardiac abnormalities.
Bulimia is characterised by binge eating followed by compensatory behaviour like induced vomiting, starvation and abuse of laxatives or diuretics in a bizarre attempt to keep the calorie balance. This binge-purge cycle may continue damaging her body both physically and emotionally.
Poor self image
An overweight teenager suffers from poor body image, which is known to lower self-confidence and morale. Studies have shown that overweight children may even have problems making friends and interacting socially. The best gift one can give the next generation is the belief in oneself and the assurance that they can pursue any career they choose, and excel. For self-confidence to be ingrained into one's psyche, one has to begin with loving oneself as any psychologist will tell you. It is difficult, if not impossible to love oneself in the midst of ridicule from peers, feeling fat and ugly, clothes that don't fit and a mirror that is one's worst enemy. Although self-confidence is a mind issue, it is closely related to the body image and how one perceives oneself. Encouraging teenagers to get into shape and adopt a healthy lifestyle goes a long way in improving confidence and poise.
Dr Sheela Nambiar M.D, is a Obstetrician/Gynaecologist, Fitness and Lifestyle Consultant NAFC (USA) and Director, TFL Fitness Studio, Chennai. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Ways to include fitness into an adolescent's day
Make her participate in household
chores, limiting time spent at
sedentary activities like television
or Internet browsing.
Encourage participation in a
physical game or dance that she
Make healthy meals and snacks a
priority for the entire family.
Schedule structured fitness
routines under qualified
professionals if required.
Monitor food intake and exercise
in a way that does not impose on
the child's autonomy or selfesteem.
Engage in reading genuine
scientific material regarding
Fitness and get your facts
Educate yourself and the
teenager of the pitfalls, signs and
symptoms of dysfunctional eating
habits like Anorexia, bulimia and
binge eating or drinking. Take
action at the earliest signs of
Avoid constant criticism of body
weight/ eating habits; it only leads
to reinforcing the negative
Finally, be prepared to exercise with your teenager if need be and lead by example.
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