Teen Fitness: How to Encourage Your Couch Potato to Exercise

Kids in Canada average 8 hours of screen-time each day, but only 5 per cent get enough exercise. How flipping these stats can help your child stay fit and healthy for life.

Illustration by Anke Weckmann

Illustration by Anke Weckmann

Cindy and Curtis Butt’s household—which includes three boys, two of them teenagers—is about as active as they come. In the winter, Tristan, 15, Jackson, 13, and Daniel, 9, play hockey and swim. Between practices, games and meets, the boys are on the ice or in the pool seven days a week. And in the summer, they spend the majority of their time at a mountain retreat near their home in Port-aux-Basques, N.L., where they hike, bike, Boogie Board and otherwise work up a sweat in the great outdoors.

To some, it may sound like a lot, but Cindy says it’s just part of their family routine. “We’ve never believed in sitting around the house, playing video games and watching a lot of TV,” she says. “Activity is part of our everyday living, and we hope the boys will take that mindset with them down the road.”

Sedentary Teens Are Becoming a Growing Problem

For parents of teens, instilling an active lifestyle—one that will lay the foundation for a lifetime of health and fitness—can be a real challenge. With today’s abundance of enticing screens, many kids text and game their spare time away. It’s a phenomenon that can’t help but strike fear that these teens will grow up to be sedentary adults.

Read More: The Right Sport for Your Kids

Parents are right to be concerned, says Kelly Murumets, president and CEO of Participaction, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and supporting healthy and active living. Noting that the average child now spends almost eight hours per day on screens, she observes that a staggeringly low number—only five per cent of children and youth—get the 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day required to meet guidelines set by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. “And we know that as kids get older, they are less active,” says Murumets.

It’s something that Mark Brinkman sees every single day at work. “It’s like pulling teeth to get students onto the court or out onto the field,” says the physical education teacher and father of three from Chatham, Ont.

“Most kids can’t even run half a lap without getting totally exhausted. And they’re very candid with me—they tell me it’s because they spend most of their time sitting still, on their phones or at home playing video games.”

Fitness Can be a Fun Part of Their Daily Routine – Here’s How:

North Vancouver, B.C., mom Jagruti Desai says that staying active has always been a priority in her household. Her son, Shiv, was enrolled in a wide variety of active pursuits including soccer at age three, baseball at age four and basketball at age eight. She also made sure that the family did something outside every day of the week, whether that meant a walk around the block or a trip to the park to play on the monkey bars.

She observes that Shiv, now 14, is most motivated when he’s having fun—a point that’s perhaps obvious, but important nonetheless. Cindy agrees that friends are a very important part of the equation for her active sons, who definitely have the most fun when playing hockey with their pals. “It’s all about enjoying each other’s company.”

Set the Example By Being Active Yourself

While fun is important, both these moms note that establishing positive patterns—and practising them on a day-to-day basis—is essential. Both sets of parents make a point to be active around their kids. A healthy dose of “stick-to-itiveness” is helpful, too. Once started, they say, parents should compel teens as much as possible, to keep with an activity, even if they don’t love it after the first few sessions, practices or games.

“My parents are famous for nagging us to keep at it,” says Tristan Butt. “At the time it annoys me, but now I see that it actually helps.”

Shiv Desai says he’ll definitely be taking the lessons learned at home with him as he grows older. “Getting outside and playing sports will always be part of my life.”

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