Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

Exercise. Now.

Exercise. Now.
Get oriented.
Get oriented.
Look 'em in the eye
Sleep already
Exercise. Now.
Get blogging
Get coding
Get smart(er)
Get lucky

Nag nag. You’re not getting enough exercise. Nag nag. You’re spending too much time in front of “screens.”

Overweight dude in a barcolounger, watching an abs-buster commercial on TV. Ron and Joe/Shutterstock

Don’t you hate it when the nags are right?

Because, statistically speaking, they are. Less than 13 percent of the teenagers in America are getting the amount of exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. (That’s an hour of pulse-boosting movement, just about every day. And some sort of strength-building activity three days a week.) And The Kaiser Foundation (run by nags, no doubt) says you spend, on average, seven hours and 38 minutes a day connected to “entertainment media.”

We understand. You don’t want to give in to the nags: It’ll just encourage them. But before you reach for that second bag of Doritos and settle in for that online gaming marathon, hear us out. You really might want to hit that hour-a-day mark because...

1. Your life will improve.

Check out this survey of 12,000 teens compared those whose primary recreational activities were watching TV and playing video games and those who said they were physically active five days a week. The active teens were more likely to have friends, have a positive self-image, get good grades, sleep at least eight hours a night and, yep, have lower stress levels.

silhouette of three jogging teenagers gynold/Shutterstock

A 30-minute jog on a treadmill or around the neighborhood can dispel tension by releasing a flood of “calming” chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine, into your brain. Studies also show that if you do that at least three times a week, you can reduce the effects of depression as effectively as you might through the use of anti-depressants.

2. You’ll be smarter, too.

Exercise triggers the production of brain “growth factors”—chemicals that help incubate new brain cells and build new connections between existing brain cells. All of which helps you learn faster and more effectively.

Any aerobic activity will increase the presence of these “growth factor” chemicals. A recent University Of Utah study showed that those who took a word association test the day after they’d gone hiking got substantially higher scores than those who had stayed home. silhouette of girl serving volleyball mr.Timmi/ShutterstockBut exercises that involve skill will give you the biggest bump. Researchers have also discovered that activities like tennis or volleyball, or a dance class, enhance your ability to focus as well. A study of high school-aged teenagers showed increased performance on attention-demanding tasks after just 10 minutes of a complex fitness routine.

3. You’ll be healthier right now…

…but that’s not a surprise, is it?

4. ...and you’ll be A LOT healthier later.

Someday you’ll be in your 40s…and your 80s. And when you are, you’ll be really glad you broke a sweat when you were a teen. Because the evidence is piling up:

What you do (or don’t do) now can have a big effect on how you feel later.

Just don’t get weird about it

The Journal of Pediatrics reported that 40 percent of middle school and high school boys say they lift weights to build muscles. That’s good. Those are the strength-building activities we mentioned above.

But Pediatrics also reported that 38 percent said they used protein supplements and nearly six percent said they used anabolic steroids—powerful hormones that can accelerate muscle growth. But that’s not good, because steroids can also wreak serious havoc with teenage bodies. Protein supplements can be a problem as well, because they’re sort of like unregulated drugs. Some of them contain steroids. But even those that don’t can be a bit of a mystery.

supplement labelTake a look at this label: Do you really know what all this stuff does? Neither does the U.S. Government. And, sometimes, what you don’t know can hurt you.

So go ahead and lift weights (with proper spotting, and proper technique). Just stay away from the enhancers that can mess up your body—and that really have nothing to do with staying fit, anyway.

Now about that question

Still think you don’t have an hour a day to hit the gym? Here’s the thing. You’re probably getting at least 20 to 30 minutes a day of exercise without even trying. If you walk to the bus, run between classes, charge up and down stairs to get where you’re going—that’s a start.

For the other 30-40 minutes, think of it this way. Two 15-20 minute bursts a day, and you’re done. Ride a bike, jump rope, even a psycho game of Wii tennis can do the trick. No gym required. And on those days you don’t feel motivated, remember this: The hardest part about exercising is just making the initial effort to get up off the couch. But once you do that, it doesn’t take much to stay active. And we promise: It’ll be worth it.

Got tips for fitting exercise into your day? Let us know!

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