SHAPING TEEN FITNESS
The youth make more than half of Kenya’s estimated population, with the median age of Kenyans being 19. Out of these, about 10 million are between the ages of 10 and 19, accounting for about 22% of the country’s population. This demonstrates the importance of prioritizing the handling of issues affecting adolescents, critical among them being their fitness. For us to build a healthy nation we cannot ignore the teens, and healthy teens will grow into healthy adults who will contribute greatly to nation building.
Teenagers today are faced with many challenges, including balancing between School, Social activities, sports, relationships and sometimes even work. This coupled with the many Physical, hormonal and cognitive changes going on can be overwhelming. Physical activity and exercise, which are the hallmarks of a fit lifestyle, may gradually disappear as the teen struggles to cope with everyday life. It’s thus critical for there to be a systematic approach to shaping of teen fitness, spanning across various sectors of society. There is a role for parents, educators, community organizations and government agencies to act in tandem to ensure the young people remain fit as they transition into adulthood. This will help prevent some of the non communicable disease burden occasioned by the results of lack of fitness.
Physical fitness is a general state of health and well-being and, more specifically, the ability to perform aspects of sports, occupations and daily activities with no undue fatigue. For teenagers there are 5 components of fitness that are important for health. These include; cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. For these components of fitness to be achieved, the following aspects must be considered for all teenagers
- Physical activity – The World Health Organization (WHO) defines physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure, including activities undertaken while working, playing and carrying out household chores. With the influx of various electronic and digital gadgets, physical activity has been sacrificed in many homes, leading to many young people being physically inactive. Many schools have also placed more premium in academic success, leaving little or no time for sports and other forms of recreational physical activity. This has led to many young people lacking in cardiovascular endurance, a key component of the fitness pentagon. Physical inactivity also leads to obesity among the teens, and this altered body composition is not only a risk factor to many diseases, but is also a cause of lots of the bullying and poor self esteem that many teens have to deal with every day.Getting the adolescents interested in a regular physical activity that they enjoy, can improve their fitness and health whilst increasing chances of making exercise and fitness a habit that lasts for many decades. The most important thing is that they keep moving!A primary goal of activity programs for youth is to promote physically active lifestyles that will be carried into adulthood and reduce health problems related to inactivity. Cross-sectional studies have shown an association between higher activity levels and lower levels of body fat (therefore easier weight management), increased bone mineral mass, and lower levels of tobacco and alcohol use later in adulthood.
- Exercise – This is a structured form of Physical activity aimed at improving health and fitness. The structure ensures that all the components of fitness are addressed by a series of moves and engagements.
Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends the following:
|Children and adolescents aged 6-17yrs should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity daily.
• Aerobic: Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week.
• Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.
• Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.
Both Physical activity and exercise can be promoted by encouraging physical activity at the family and community levels in addition to the activity conducted in the schools or with organized sports; and identifying and reducing barriers to regular physical activity. Some limiting factors are such as too much time spent on screens like phones, computers, television sets etc. that promote prolonged periods of physical inactivity.
As a community it is of great importance to create physical and social environments that encourage and enable physical activity in a safe setting. Adult supervision, teaching, and instruction in safe methods of physical activity training, safe facilities, and the appropriate use of protective equipment-such as wearing helmets whilst cycling, are all components of a safe environment for physical activity.
Parents and guardians need to support their children’s participation in enjoyable physical activities, as well as influence active lifestyles by being role models of the same.
It is important to have the flexibility to vary activities according to personal preference and life circumstances. A list of possible options includes dancing, football, jogging, aerobic classes, lawn mowing, swimming, rope skipping, roller-skating (keeping off the highways).
- A healthy eating pattern : The average modern teen’s diet is unhealthy. It typically has too much sugar, too much salt as processed food and lots of fats. This leads to lots of challenges in body composition either as being overweight or obese. These challenges can be dealt with by having a healthy eating pattern which Includes a variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas). Fruits, especially whole fruits. Grains, at least half of which are whole grains. Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products and Oils within an appropriate calorie level. Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium must be limited.
Skipping meals is not part of a healthy lifestyle, neither does it accelerate one’s fitness journey. People who skip meals tend to overeat later!
Starving oneself to get lean is another problem some teens have found themselves in. It may lead to abnormally low weights associated with other medical conditions such as anemia, osteoporosis (low bone density with increased risk of fractures), nutritional deficiencies, menstrual irregularities etc. Skinny is not equivalent to fit and this message needs to be passed strongly to the teenagers.
The healthy adolescent is a fit adolescent, and all efforts geared towards achieving of this goal will go a long way in giving us a healthy nation. We should all strive to inspire a fitness conscious generation.