Two Teens jumping on white sand dunes

6 Methods to Motivate Teens to Get Exercise

Many parents find themselves struggling to inspire their teens to get off the couch and start exercising;  being physically active may be the last way a teen wants to unwind after a day at school, work, or extracurricular activities. Teens who aren't active, however, are at risk of developing poor health, and they miss out on the mood-lifting benefits of physical activity, too.1,2

The benefits of exercise for teens go far beyond today. The Lancet commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing concluded that “investing in adolescent health and wellbeing will yield a “triple benefit” – today, into adulthood, and for the next generation.” This makes sense, given the physical benefits of teens exercising regularly. Prevention of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes goes a long way toward intergenerational health!

Two kids jumping down white sand dunes
Photo credit: Alissa Zorn

Studies have also found that teens with higher levels of physical activity experience mental benefits. Regular moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity reduces stress hormones in adolescents, lowering their risk of depression. As for learning, teen exercise gives adolescents more ability to stay on task, better concentration, and improved memory.

If you can motivate your teen to exercise regularly today, it'll build healthy habits that increase well-being for years to come. Teens are more likely to engage in vigorous physical activity if they find it enjoyable and meaningful. Here are our six stellar methods to motivate teens to get the exercise they need.

Motivating Teens To Exercise – 6 Methods

1. Create Self-Motivation for Being Active

Can you help your teen uncover something they're really passionate about? The goal of “just exercising” might not be very motivating to your teenager but they probably have other goals they’re interested in achieving. For instance, your teen might have the goal of branching out to meet new people. To motivate them to work out, you can make the connection that signing up for the football team, or looking for pick-up hockey games at the park can introduce them to awesome bonding opportunities with new friends.

In another example, your teen might wrestle with getting a good night’s sleep, and feels groggy throughout the day. You can help them cross a goal off their list by demonstrating how regular exercise helps boost our energy levels during the day, as well as makes it easier to fall asleep at night. When you find something that your teen wants to do, you can try to connect it to exercise to see if they’d be willing to give it a try, even if they typically exhibit patterns of defiance.

2. Build Up to Exercise Goals Over Time

This method helps teens get into exercise by starting small. As James Clear mentions in his best-seller, “Atomic Habits“, the most powerful path to creating good habits and breaking bad habits is through small actions that are easily repeatable. As with any of us, teens will be deterred from forming a routine if their first experiences with working out are extremely taxing, especially if they’re not used to physical excursions. You might want to lower your expectations at the start and get them in the habit of working out by beginning with something easy.

Try encouraging your teen to start with a mere 10 minutes of exercise per day. This might look like taking a leisurely walk or doing a few pull-ups. Next, you might want to gradually increase the length of activities by a few minutes every other day. Over time, your teen can build the confidence needed to tackle a 30-minute run or an hour lifting weights.

A teen and two adults with a dog hiking together
Photo credit: Alissa Zorn

3. Model Positive Habits

One of the best ways to get teens exercising is to show them your own discipline and results. Teenagers learn way more about behavior by watching what their parents do as opposed to listening to their advice. In this way, even if you encourage your teen to exercise every day, you’ll be much more influential if you can model good fitness habits yourself. Plus, why should they have to exercise if you’re not willing to do the same?

We recommend sharing how positive you feel after a day of physical activity with your teen, as well as how you commit yourself to getting the exercise you need, even on days that you’d rather sleep in or watch TV. You can model positive behaviors in a variety of ways. It might be taking the stairs instead of the elevator or starting a new exercise program and sharing with your teen about what that's like for you. Showing off good habits might be the key to getting your teen to feel inspired and to show them that they’re not alone in the effort to get fit.

4. Don’t Compromise the Fun Factor

Your teen might be hesitant to work out because the idea of getting exercise seems like all work and no play, but this doesn’t have to be the case. There are a lot of fun ways to get in an hour of exercise per day, like adventuring on local trails that take you to a beautiful locations, having a dance party, or swimming in the ocean. The key is to find something that your teen finds fun and that they’re inspired to keep up with. This way, moving their muscles is something they look forward to instead of dread.

5. Incorporate a Social Element

Sometimes, all teens need to get motivated is a workout partner or some other social engagement to make the workout a breeze. Research indicates that working out with others keeps us dedicated, inspires us to push harder, and makes everything feel a little bit easier. Participation in school sports could be a good route, or you might help your teen form good exercise habits if you can incorporate family or friends to join.

Adding social influences could be the tipping point to get your teen excited about working out. For example, you could make it a routine to play basketball at the local park with your family in the evenings. Or maybe you ask your teen to invite their friends over for a skateboarding session. Another idea is inspiring your teen to hang out with friends at their favorite place in town, but biking there instead of driving. Even doing family chores together can take on a feeling of teamwork, and things like mowing the lawn or raking leaves can yield good physical activity.

6. Practice Regular Encouragement

Finally, don’t forget to root for your teen. If exercising is particularly difficult for your teen, the reassurance you can provide might mean a lot to them, especially when it comes to sticking with a routine.

You might cheer them on by taking note of their progress and commending them when they break through personal barriers or hit certain targets, no matter how small. You might express joy that your teen has better energy and mood or that their sleep seems to have improved. You could use these examples or something else inspirational. Your teen might not be as aware of their own improvement, so your helpful comments could inspire them to realize their progress and keep up the hard work. 

Ready to Get Moving?

We hope so! We’re sure that these six tricks will help encourage, motivate, and inspire your teenager. Everyone is different, so it might take a couple of tries to see which methods are the most effective for your teen. We hope this advice can get your teen on the road to being healthier and happier!

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References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/facts.htm
2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-exercise-help-relieve-teen-depression-2016081010084
3. Patton GC, Sawyer SM, Santelli JS, et al. Our future: a Lancet commission on adolescent health and wellbeing. Lancet. 2016;387(10036):2423–78. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
4. Kim, Hwi Jun et al. “The Effects of Intense Physical Activity on Stress in Adolescents: Findings from Korea Youth Risk Behavior Web-Based Survey (2015-2017).” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 16,10 1870. 27 May. 2019, doi:10.3390/ijerph16101870