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The Importance of Fitness and Nutrition for Teenagers

what kind of exercise do teenagers need?

Whether your teen is looking to get fit for a school sports season or because they want to look great for prom, routine exercise and well-rounded nutrition and meals will help on their mission. A solid exercise routine can move them closer to their physical goals, and the mental benefits of exercise can help teenagers gain momentum toward emotional, academic, and personal goals too.

Physical and Mental Benefits of Exercise for Teenagers

For health and wellbeing, pre-teens and teenagers need light, moderate and vigorous physical activity each day. Pre-teens and teenagers need to do activities that strengthen muscles and bones. Busy teenagers might need to plan how they’ll get enough physical activity, but a healthy lifestyle balances physical activity, homework, screen time, and other activities, and should be a priority.

According to the CDC, physical inactivity can lead to energy imbalance and can increase the risk of becoming overweight or obese, and increase the risk of factors for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, insulin resistance, and glucose intolerance, increasing the risk for developing type 2 diabetes, increase the risk for developing breast, colon, endometrial, and lung cancers and leads to low bone density, which in turn, leads to osteoporosis.

Mental Benefits of Physical Activity for Teenagers

Exercise can not only be used for physical health benefits but also for mental health benefits. Studies show that exercise has the following benefits for teenagers’ mental health: positively impacts levels of serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mental health. Releases endorphins, the body’s natural “happy chemicals.” Lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As a teen, developing healthy brain function and mental health is essential. Physical activity can help teens with the following:

  • Reduce stress and increase relaxation
  • Alleviate anxiety and depression
  • Improve self-confidence
  • Sharpen memory and prevent cognitive decline.
  • Help control addiction
  • Get more done and tap into creativity

Establishing an Exercise Routine For Teens

A daily exercise program is a fun way to share physical activity with family and friends while helping to establish good heart-healthy habits. Teenagers need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days to maintain good health and fitness, and for healthy weight during growth.

Exercising burns calories, helping teenagers avoid weight gain and develop lean, toned physiques. and maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, which are becoming more prevalent among children and teens. Weight-bearing exercise such as brisk walking, running, and jumping strengthens bones and helps prevent loss of bone density and osteoporosis in later life. Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by weak, brittle bones, which increases the risk of serious, potentially life-threatening hip fractures in older adults.

Examples of vigorous activities can include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Roller skating
  • Jumping rope
  • Playing on the playground
  • Dancing
  • Gymnastics
  • Hiking
  • Soccer
  • Tag games

In addition to physical benefits for the body, teenagers can keep that youthful glow long past their teenage years by exercising regularly. In fact, another way in which routine exercise benefits teenagers is it could help delay signs of aging. Teens who pair working out with a healthy diet to work toward reducing acne and stay fresh-faced for your yearbook photo.

Benefits of Playing on a High School Sports Team

The exercise involved in most sports improves teens’ health, strength, emotional balance, and life years. Exercise releases cortisol, which reduces stress; and endorphins, our bodies natural feel-good chemicals. Sports participation is linked to reduced heart disease and diabetes, among other health benefits.

Only about 1 in 4 high school students get the recommended hour a day of physical activity, according to statistics from the American Heart Association. Screen time is partially to blame, along with declining physical education programs in schools, experts say. Teens are missing out on the health benefits, which range from a stronger heart to better mental health.

During the formative high school years, teenagers’ bodies grow and change constantly, and participation in sports can help teens learn how to maneuver and adjust to their changing bodies and physical abilities. Something else to know is that a teen’s hormones and chemical makeup are constantly in flux, and participation in sports can actually help the body produce more positive chemicals, such as endorphins and adrenaline, which creates more stable moods, positive feelings of happiness, and decreased feelings of depression or sadness.

Nutrition and Diet Strategies for Healthy Teens

While it may not be a nutrient, physical activity is a key component of any healthy diet. Encourage your teen athletes to be physically active every day. If necessary, suggest limits on the amount of time spent watching TV or using the computer. All physical activity counts whether it is being involved with school sports, taking dance lessons, shooting hoops in the driveway, or walking to school. There are countless ways to get moving, even out of sport environments.

Teens need a lot of calories to support the rapid growth that occurs during this time and to fuel their busy lives. The number of calories that your teen needs vary depending on age, sex, and activity level. Most adolescent girls need somewhere around 2,200 calories per day, while most adolescent boys need 2,500-3,000 calories per day.

Between schoolwork, sports, and other activities, teens are often so busy they don’t have time to eat balanced meals that provide the calories and nutrients they need. Still, it is also easy to eat too many calories, especially when poor food choices are made. Over time, this can lead to excess weight and obesity.

Make sure your teenage athlete gets the number of calories they need by:

  1. Providing a variety of nutrient-rich foods from all the different food groups
  2. Limiting foods that are high in added sugar or fat, but provide little else, such as candy bars, chips, cakes, cookies, donuts, and regular soda
  3. Serving reasonable portion sizes and then letting your teen have more if they are still hungry


Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your player. About 45%-65% of their calories should come from carbohydrates. Encourage your teen to choose healthy carbohydrate-rich foods, such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and milk. Limit foods that are high in refined flour or added sugar, such as white bread, non-whole-grain crackers, cookies, juice, and soda.


Teens need protein for growth and repair, as well as to build muscle. About 15%-25% of a teen’s calories should come from protein. Good sources of protein include poultry, lean meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, soy, legumes, and low-fat and nonfat dairy products.


Adolescents need between 25%-35% of their calories as fat. Dietary fat provides essential fatty acids that are necessary for proper growth. It also helps transport fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and maintain healthy skin. Your teen’s fat intake should come mostly from healthy fats, such as those found in vegetable oils (canola and olive oil), nuts, avocados, olives, and fatty fish (salmon, sardines, and tuna).

Vitamins & Minerals

Research shows that many adolescents, particularly girls, do not get all the vitamins and minerals they need. While all vitamins and minerals are important, adolescents tend to often fall short on:


  • essential for building strong bones and teeth;
  • milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified cereal, and canned salmon are also good sources


  • Important for proper growth during adolescence
  • Found in orange juice, fortified breakfast cereals, bread, milk, dried beans, and lentils


  • Necessary for transporting red blood cells; not getting enough from the diet can result in iron-deficiency anemia
  • Meat, chicken, fish, and fortified breakfast cereal


  • Helps promote proper growth and sexual maturation during adolescence
  • Chicken, meat, shellfish, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereal

Vitamin A

  • Necessary for proper vision, growth, and immune system functioning
  • Carrots, fortified breakfast cereal, milk, and cheese

Vitamin D

  • Necessary for the body to use the calcium that is consumed
  • Fortified milk, salmon, and egg yolks—sunshine allows your body to make vitamin D, but be aware of the dangers of getting too much sun

Vitamin E

  • Helps protect the body from damage
  • Nuts, seeds, whole grains, spinach, and fortified breakfast cereal


  • Helps regulate the heartbeat, build strong bones, and keep blood pressure within a normal range
  • Whole grains, green vegetables, and legumes


Most adolescents do not eat enough fiber. Diets high in fiber tend to be lower in total calories, fat, and cholesterol than diets that are low in fiber. What’s more, research shows that high fiber intake may help prevent heart disease and certain kinds of cancer. Fiber can also help prevent constipation and increase fullness following a meal. To be sure your teen is getting enough fiber, teach them to choose whole grains over refined grains, and encourage them to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

How Can I Learn More About Nutrition and the Benefits of Exercise for Teenagers?

Exercise and a healthy diet are powerful forms of self-care because they have so many physical, emotional, and psychological benefits for teenagers. For these reasons, parents and caregivers should prioritize healthy mentality and approach to eating, and encourage their teens to exercise on a regular basis.

The Youth Performance Coach Certification is designed for new and advanced coaches and trainers who want to specialize in the areas of youth athletics, youth mentorship and leadership for the next generation.

If you are new to youth coaching, training and mentoring, this is a great launching point for your career. You will gain valuable insight that will give you the skills needed to make a positive change in the lives of youth.

If you want to help clients with food, diet, weight management and improving the results of their fitness routines, the Fitness Nutrition Coach course is for you. You will learn about optimal nutrition, including proven techniques for increasing energy, optimal health and decreased dependence on medications. Instantly increase your job and career opportunities with this popular professional credential.

Check out what it takes to start a career in personal fitness training. NESTA is your most affordable and fastest way to become a highly qualified personal trainer.

NESTA coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.

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