Finding The Right Amount of Exercise for Teens

Exercise has been getting more and more attention among mental health professionals recently for two reasons. The first is that experts and researchers have found that exercise can be beneficial for aiding in the treatment of depression and other psychological disorders. At the same time, researchers have found that too much exercise can be harmful to a teen’s health. So, what exactly is the right amount of exercise for teens?


Perhaps it’s already clear that exercise can significantly improve an adolescent’s overall mental health. For instance, it has the following benefits:

Physical Benefits of Exercise

  • Weight loss and management
  • Improves circulation
  • Removes toxins from the body through sweating
  • Strengthens the heart
  • Improved muscle strength
  • Boosts energy
  • More restful sleep
  • Improved circulation


Psychological Benefits of Exercise

  • Improved self-image
  • Relieves stress
  • Improved mood
  • Reduces anxiety and depression
  • Provides a healthy hobby
  • Sharpens mental skills
  • Positive feelings surrounding taking care of oneself


Furthermore, a research study recently published in American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that even moderate exercise could prevent episodes of depression over the long term. The study analyzed 26 years worth of research findings, which revealed that even low levels of physical activity, such as walking for 20-30 minutes per day, could prevent depression.


For instance, physical activity can release endorphins, boost positive feelings, and affect one’s overall mental health. Exercise can also help with the health of the brain, including making new neural connections, which alone can facilitate enduring change. Physical exercise can also be used as a coping mechanism. For instance, if you and your teen were arguing or if you were to notice that your teen is feeling agitated or frustrated, he or she might exercise as a means to manage his or her emotions. Running or walking or doing yoga can be a healthy way to release anger. Vigorous exercise can be the way that your child manages the intense emotions that are common with adolescence. Just as the above study indicated, to experience the benefits from exercise, your adolescent doesn’t have to run three miles a day; simply taking a walk regularly can boost psychological health.


Although exercise has been proven to be very beneficial, another recent study found that too much exercise could also be harmful. The researchers from Switzerland and Canada published a study in the Archives of Disease and Childhood, indicating that 14 hours of physical activity a week is best for promoting good health in teenagers. Yet, at the same time, anything over 14 hours could be detrimental to their health.


The study surveyed approximately 1,245 teens between the ages of 16 and 20 from Switzerland. All participants were required to answer questions regarding their demographics, height, weight, socioeconomic status, sports injuries, and well-being. The quality of their well being was determined by using the World Health Organization’s (WHO) index, whose scores fall between 0 and 25, with scores below 13 indicating a poor well being.


The researchers found that participants who had low as well as very high physical activity were more than twice as likely to have poor well being. In other words their scores were below 13. In order to determine low versus moderate versus high levels of exercise, researchers categorized exercise low as being zero to 3.5 hours per week, moderate as 3.6 to 10.5 hours per week, high as 10.6 to 17.5 hours per week, and very high as more than 17. 5 hours per week.


At the same time, the results of the study indicated that those teens who exercised approximately 14 hours per week has the highest level of well being. Of course, as already mentioned, exercise is a powerful form self-care because it has so many physical, emotional, and psychological benefits for the mind and body. Researchers made the comment that exercise can boost positive emotions, reduce depression, and lower anxiety. Furthermore, it can improve self-esteem and cognitive functioning in children and adolescents.


In fact, because exercise has so many benefits, researchers are continuing to explore how exercise can specifically facilitate recovery from depression and other mental illnesses. However, the most significant point from this study is that too much exercise can have the opposite, damaging effect.




Weekly sport practice and adolescent well-being, Arnaud Merglen, Aline Flatz, Richard E Bélanger, Pierre-André Michaud, Joan-Carles Suris, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, 20 November 2013.