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Let them sweat it out

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GET MOVING The onus is on elders to set an example for kids to exercise
GET MOVING The onus is on elders to set an example for kids to exercise

When it comes to exercising, parents should strive to be role models for teenagers

The average three-year-old needs no injunction to exercise: she zips around the house and burns calories faster than her parents can get her to eat. This innate biological drive to exercise declines at adolescence and unless extrinsic factors replace it, decreased activity becomes a habit. Adolescent inactivity is troubling: for example, the lesions of coronary artery disease have their beginnings in adolescence and teenage habits are the strongest predictors of adult habits. Extrinsic factors making teenagers want to exercise include the desire to be accepted among peers, the desire to be sexually attractive, innate physical abilities and ideas of self. Except for teenagers who enjoy sports or seriously pursue fitness for the sake of looking good, being physically active gets in the way of being cool or studious. A gradual adaptation to an "adult" lifestyle squeezes out what little time one has to spare for exercise. As they grow older, girls face additional social pressures to give up exercise. Teenage girls need all the help they can get from parents and role models to exercise.

Sports as entertainment

Parents who ensure that television, the internet and video games do not form a huge part of their children's lives will create a natural drift towards sports as an alternative source of entertainment. Teenagers are more likely to be physically active if they get the support of parents - especially fathers. Having the support of friends also helps. Being involved in organised sports and not merely play increases the likelihood of making exercise part of one's lifestyle. Structure ensures compliance. Changing our attitudes as a society towards exercise - as something to be promoted and not as something to be sacrificed at the altar of studies - will make it easier for teens to give importance to keeping themselves fit. Changing attitudes means making space for exercise in our children's lives: colleges need playgrounds and gyms as much as they need libraries. Sweat must be valued as much as swot.Finally promoting a child's feelings of self-competence in his or her chosen sport will set up a cycle of desire for exercise and gratification from it that lasts well into adulthood.

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