Chances are, you gain weight. When you try on your jeans for school, you can barely pull up the zipper.
Maybe you turn to your older brother for advice, saying, "I was a couch potato all summer -- and now I look like one! What can I do?"
Your brother responds, "It's simple! You have to move around more and get your body in condition. Turn off the computer and go for a walk. Swim laps. Ride your bike. If it's raining, run in place while you watch TV."
So you listen -- and take action, walking the half mile to the bus stop in the mornings and afternoons instead of catching a ride with a friend. You run the track at PE even when the coach gives you free time. And you sign up to be on the school's swim team, which practices every afternoon. You strengthen your cardiovascular system with aerobic exercise.
By Thanksgiving, you've lost the extra weight without changing your diet at all. You feel energetic and stronger, and you feel good about yourself. As a bonus, your clothes fit better. Your jeans are even a bit loose. Isn't it great to be active again?
Understanding Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise includes physical activity that increases your heart rate and keeps it higher for a certain period of time. It boosts the amount of oxygen delivered to your heart and muscles so they use oxygen more efficiently and stay healthier.
Aerobic exercise keeps you super-fit -- and healthy. It helps you maintain a normal weight, reduces your "love handles," and even eases stress, so you smile more and complain less. Studies show that increased stress hormones may be the cause of belly fat. And what's the best stress reliever? Exercise!
Regular aerobic exercise also releases endorphins (happy hormones), brain chemicals that boost your mood naturally. At the same time, aerobic exercise reduces the risk of some types of cancer.
Are Weight-Bearing Exercises Aerobic?
Many aerobic exercises are also "weight-bearing" -- the kind where you stand on your feet and exercise. Weight-bearing aerobic exercises include walking, aerobics, dancing, tennis, climbing stairs, and running.
Weight-bearing exercise stimulates the cells that make new bone and boost bone strength. This is especially important for teenagers because your bone mass peaks between ages 25 and 30. Adolescence is the time to build the strongest bones possible.
Getting Started with Aerobic Exercise
To start an aerobic exercise program, just put on your running shoes and start walking. It's fun -- and free. You can walk in your neighborhood, at a local mall, at school on the track.
If walking is not your thing, grab your bike and start riding. Or swim laps. Or do all of these! There are enough choices to let you do a different one each day for a month -- or longer. See the list below for some other exercises and school sports that build your cardiovascular endurance.
Find Your Best Time of Day for Exercise
As you start an aerobic exercise program, it's important to find the right time to exercise -- a time when you feel alert and energetic. This helps to make the exercise more fun and even easier.
You may be a morning person and enjoy using a stationary bike before school. Or, if you're barely awake at 6 a.m., you can hit the track running at lunchtime, during PE, or after school. Maybe swimming is what you love. So enjoy de-stressing while swimming laps on your school's team.
Exercise with a Friend
If you get bored easily and like to talk with someone, invite a friend to be part of your aerobic exercise program. Your friend can act as a coach, motivator, and conscience, as well as give you someone to laugh with during exercise.
Exercising with someone can increase the chance that you'll stick with the program.
Join an Aerobic Exercise Class
If you are social or need further instruction, you might prefer being part of a fitness class. Try an aerobics or gymnastics class at the local "Y," an indoor cycling class at a fitness center, or a school sports team: volleyball, basketball, football, swimming.
The options for aerobic exercise are numerous. Just find what you like and make it your daily habit -- your gift to yourself.
Build Your Own Gym at Home
If you like privacy and would rather exercise in the comfort of your own home, set up a personal home gym. Exercising at home allows you to choose the time of day you work out and exercise at your own pace. And all the new home exercise equipment and DVDs that are available make it easier than ever to get fit at home.
Some basics for your gym might include:
- A yoga mat for stretching
- Light, handheld weights
- Exercise bands to use with strengthening exercises
- Instructional apps or videos
- A fitness ball, used by physical therapists for stretching the lower back and doing abdominal work
- A full-length mirror to make sure your posture is correct during your stretching and other exercises
Aim for 60 Minutes of Aerobic Exercise Most Days
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines recommend at least 60 minutes of physical activity for kids and teens on most -- if not all -- days of the week.
But Avoid Overtraining
While you need regular aerobic exercise to achieve your best health, overtraining increases your chance of injury or even illness. Symptoms might include a high resting heart rate, sleeping difficulties, and exhaustion. If your exercise seems excessive, cut back on the time or the intensity or both. Be kind to your body and give it a chance to recover.
Now, Do It!
Select your favorites from the following aerobic activities and sports. Make a commitment to exercise for 60 minutes on most days of the week. Write down your planned workouts and sports practice times on your calendar. Check off each day as you complete the activity or sport. Use a mobile app to track your progress. As the hours spent in aerobic activities start to add up, you will feel stronger and look great.
Select the Activities You Enjoy
Here's a list of activities that provide good aerobic exercise:
Dancing (jazz, hip-hop, modern, swing)
Golf (carrying clubs)
Mall walking (3-4 mph)
Running or jogging
Skiing -- especially cross county (Nordic)
School Sports That Are Aerobic
Baseball (run the bases)
Cheerleading (running, jumping, dancing)
Color guard (flag team)
Golf team (carry clubs)
Softball (run the bases)
Track and field