Is teenage fitness about health?

Is teenage fitness about health?

Ogonna Nnodimele, News Editor

This previously ran in our February 2022 print issue.

Kids should stop exercising. I’m all for healthy living, don’t get me wrong, but with pictures of skinny models and body-building athletes littering social media feeds, it’s getting pretty ridiculous.

Everyone has moments when they doubt themselves. You could be the hottest, coolest person in the world but still see something you want to change looking in the mirror. Teens deal with this pressure every day living in a digital era. More often than not, they give into extreme exercise habits for the perfect body.

According to a 2019 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), health-compromising weight control measures increased in adolescents ages 16-19 with low self-esteem. It became more common for girls to change their eating habits while boys exercised for more than two hours each day, reflecting fears of more serious lifestyle changes affecting youth.

Of course, people believe physical activity is important. Most will tell you that kids don’t get enough exercise when they’re texting, checking their status, or whatever else they do on those high-tech doodads. That can be true, but it doesn’t take away the peer pressure that afflicts adolescents regularly. According to a 2015 survey from Pew Research Center, 39% of teens on social media feel forced to post content that receives positive feedback. They look at those flawless images, envisioning themselves as the identical twin of a digitally enhanced runway model or an A-list celebrity with the latest plastic surgery.

If ignored, the problem will only get worse. More recent studies like the survey from Pew show an uptick in poor eating and exercising habits to fit the latest trends, and social anxiety doesn’t simply disappear as teens move into their young adulthood. 

So, how does one fight the waging war on confidence in today’s youth?

My advice: make health about your happiness, and in case you didn’t know, happiness takes a lot more than a “perfect” shape. People need to remember that physical activity simply promotes well-being. As reported by the CDC, daily exercise strengthens muscles and bones while relieving feelings of anxiety or depression. There are so many ways to stay active in a positive, social way, whether it involves joining a sports team, organizing fun physical activities to do with friends, or simply going on nature walks in your free time.

Most importantly, exercise changes your view of yourself and your environment. Whether hiking in the Wildlands Conservatory or cycling through trails at the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, you can experience the positive effects of physical activity while exploring the world around you, feeling them in your mind, body, and everyday life.