If you're an active person, you probably get a lot of exercise, whether you work out at a gym, play football at school, or simply bike to school. Do you ever worry that too much exercise may hurt instead of help your health? Relax - sticking to a routine of regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body. In fact, experts recommend that teens get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day.
Why? Because exercise serves several purposes: It makes your heart and lungs strong, it increases your strength and endurance, and it helps you maintain a healthy weight. In fact, you can actually change your physique through exercise by building or defining certain muscle groups over time. Exercise benefits your body not just in your teen years, but helps you stay healthy throughout adulthood, too.
Although some teens worry that exercise could stunt their growth, when you exercise safely and eat properly, there's no danger that your height or growth pattern will stall out. Exercise can help you alter your body composition, increasing your ratio of muscle to fat. And most people who exercise say that they feel more alert and better in general.
Exercise, though, like most things in life, is best done in moderation. If you overdo it, it is possible to injure yourself. Pain during or after a workout is a clear sign that you are exercising improperly or too often.
Working out too often or for too long can cause added problems for girls, who may experience amenorrhea (pronounced: ay-meh-nuh-ree-uh), which means their periods stop. And some teens who start out with the intention of becoming healthy may begin to feel guilty or anxious if they don't exercise - an unhealthy problem called compulsive exercise. If you have pain after working out, if you stop getting your period, or you feel like you must exercise every day even if you're tired or injured, discuss these things with your doctor.
Your doctor can be a good resource before you start an exercise plan, too. If you are just beginning an exercise program, your doctor can help you decide on the best type of exercise for your individual health needs.
Then consult with someone who understands the mechanics of exercise, like a coach or a fitness expert at a gym, to help you get started. He or she will help you select a program that combines aerobic activity, which focuses on the heart and lungs, with weight training, which concentrates on strengthening and conditioning your muscles. You may also want to learn some stretching exercises to help you increase your flexibility, another important part of fitness.
Once you start, be sure to eat nutritiously by chowing down on a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat and nonfat dairy products, and lean protein sources. You should also drink plenty of water before, during, and after workouts to make up for fluids lost during exercise. And you'll need plenty of sleep, so your body has time to rest and recover between workouts. You can also take care of your body and improve your performance by avoiding smoking, alcohol, and drugs. Drugs include dietary supplements and anabolic steroids, powerful chemicals that can cause behavior problems, liver problems, and increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
With a commitment to regular exercise now, you'll be setting the stage for a lifetime of good health.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2005
Originally reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD