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Social Benefits of Physical Activity for Teens

Tara Kunesh
Teen Sports

According to the experts, there are many social benefits of physical activity for teens. Everyone knows the health benefits, such as weight control, lowered blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health, and because of that, the social benefits tend to take a back seat.

The Social Benefits of Physical Activity for Teens

When it comes to keeping fit, some teens want to know what's in it for them. While many teenagers will exercise for the physical value, not all teenagers enjoy sports or working out. These teenagers might appreciate knowing they can reap other advantages from exercise, especially those which will help them socially.

Exercise Improves Self-Image

Even if their friends and family think they look fine, teens often have a very poor self-image. Physical activity helps with more than just weight control, clothes size and muscle tone. As the authors at Helpguide.org suggest, when exercise becomes a way of life, it can bolster a flagging sense of self-worth and make a teenager feel strong and health-conscious. In fact, NPR reports researchers found there was a clear and defined link between organized sports and happiness.

Exercise Increases Self-Esteem and Confidence

As Mentalheath.net explains, self-esteem refers to a person's ideas about her worth and importance to others. It is hard to be comfortable in a group or to stand your ground socially if you are struggling with doubts about your value. Self-esteem and self-confidence can sometimes be elusive emotions. However, Psychology Today, referencing several studies, reports that physical activity has a profoundly positive effect on both self-esteem and confidence.

Exercise Reduces Stress and Anxiety

These days, teens are more stressed than ever with so many demands on their time and so much pressure from different sources. It is difficult to feel particularly social when weighed down by stress. However, almost any exercise can help reduce stress. Any physical activity will release endorphins, the brain's natural feel-good chemical, which results in a great, natural sense of well-being. Author Kirsten Weir writes about what the American Psychological Association (APA) terms the "Exercise Effect" and reports that Scientist Jasper Smits from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas has suggested that the byproducts of exercise, such as increased heart rate and sweat production, are similar to what the body undergoes when subjected to anxiety. Smits reasons that if exercise helps regulate these systems as part of a consistent regime, they should stay regulated even during times of heightened anxiety.

Exercise Helps You Make Friends

Team members celebrating

Many forms of physical activity can be helpful for teens looking to meet new people. If their preferred physical activity is organized sports, the team aspect may bring teenagers many new friends. Yet, even if teenagers are participating in an individual activity, such as rollerblading or hiking, there may be other teens out there to share the experience with. The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) credits the friendships made through sports as being some of the most unique and meaningful.

Exercise Improves Academic Skills

A lesser-known benefit of regular exercise is the claim that it might just make you smarter. When studies are going well and grades are improving, teens have more time to engage with their peers and enjoy an eclectic social life. The National Education Association (NEA) believes there is a strong link between physical activity and academic performance at school. Researchers from the UK who analyzed a sample of five thousand children found that a moderate to high level of exercise correlated favorably with better academic performance and exam results.

Teamwork and Cooperation

It may seem obvious, but sports and games, as Play For Change points out, have the power to increase children and teenagers' social skills including the ability to cooperate with others, work as a team, and problem solve. Most team sports teach leadership skills as well as team building skills. This high level of cooperation fosters great communication skills and allows young people to develop confidence in their ability to interact with others.

Exercise Deters Depression

Even though socializing and exercise might be the last things on your mind when you are feeling down, it seems that physical activity can be a powerful deterrent to sadness and depression. This is also part of what the APA terms the "exercise effect," referenced above. Not only does exercise improve your mood almost immediately, but studies have shown that it can help to alleviate long-term depression too.

Exercise Helps You Sleep

Teenage girl sleeping on sofa

Lack of sleep makes a person irritable and disinclined to socialize. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes guidelines for how much sleep a person should optimally have, dependent on age. It suggests that teenagers should aim for eight to ten hours a night. However, some teens, even when they have the time to achieve this, are finding sleep hard to come by. Anxiety over exams, friends and extracurricular activities (to name but a few issues) are preventing many teenagers from gaining the sleep they need. The National Sleep Foundation points out that studies suggest moderate exercise reduces the time it takes for a person to fall asleep, as well as increases the time during which a person stays sleeping.

Exercise Is an Alternative to Negative Behavior

Behaviors such as autism and ADHD might be a deterrent to a teen's ability to fit well into a group of peers. Healthline reports that issues such as ADHD seem to be increasing and most parents and teenagers would like to know there were alternatives to drugs for those affected. Luckily, a recent study reported by CBS News reveals that exercise can eliminate some of the behavioral issues demonstrated by children with ADHD and even autism. Daniel Coury MD points out that the endorphins and dopamine released during exercise improve the brain's overall functioning powers.

What Type of Physical Activity Should Teens Be Engaging In?

Some types of sports, games, or exercises may be more appealing to teenagers. Just about any type of physical activity is beneficial. While team sports do more easily foster friendships, it is important for a teenager to pick an exercise that he or she likes. Studies suggest that only one in three children are active each day. If a teenager finds a sport or exercise he or she enjoys, it is more likely that the teen will retain the habit and keep exercising throughout his or her life. Fortunately for those with busy schedules, the Guardian reports that exercising once or twice at the weekend is almost as good for your health as exercising more often throughout the week.

Moderate Physical Activity

  • Walking two miles
  • Swimming laps for twenty minutes
  • Cycling four miles

Vigorous Physical Activity

  • Dancing for thirty minutes
  • Playing Tennis for thirty minutes
  • Playing a game of soccer, football, or basketball for thirty minutes

Check out the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Guide to Physical Activity for some sometimes surprising ideas about other activities which might work for you.

The Physically Active Teen

Hopefully, teenagers will see that they do not have to be fanatics to reap the benefits, both social and physical, of keeping active. Even exercising once a week is useful. The advantages of keeping fit are widely documented and there are so many sports and activities teenagers can choose from to achieve their personal goals. Exercise should be a choice for the mentally conscious as well as the physically conscious. It is a crucial part of a well balanced life.

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Social Benefits of Physical Activity for Teens