You’re Never Too Young to Age Well

You’re Never Too Young to Age Well

Teens—reshape the future of your health by forming these habits today.

Aristotle said it first and best: “Good habits formed in youth make all the difference.” But it’s tough to know at 15 that your hunched posture while texting may cause you chronic neck pain when you’re 40. Or that living on diet soda and doughnuts in college can contribute to developing heart disease. The problems associated with getting older seem so far off.

But the seeds of your future health are planted early. And you can do a great deal as a pre-teen and teen to make sure you don’t develop premature health issues—such as type 2 diabetes (around 5,300 US kids are diagnosed a year) and hypertension (now affecting an estimated 3.5 percent of American children and teens). What accounts for these numbers? Childhood obesity has skyrocketed—13.7 million children and adolescents are now obese and millions more are overweight.

So kids, we’re talking directly to you. (You can get your folks in on this too—they also need to participate in a “whole-house-gets-healthy” redo.) But you can reshape your future. And have fun doing it. So this one’s for you!

Weight management
There are three simple guidelines that will transform your health:

  • No sweetened beverages. Limit 100 percent natural juices (nothing added) to four ounces a day.
  • No fried foods.
  • Eat a salad or a serving of veggies at every meal. Have two pieces of fruit or a handful of berries daily.

It matters for your grades, your health (you tend to overeat when you are sleepy) and your mood. Kids 6 to 13 need 9 to 10 hours; aim for 8 to 10 hours if you are 14 to 17 years of age; 7 to 9 hours if you are 18 to 25. If you feel you have too much to do (homework, sports practice, after school job) and school starts way too early (you’re catching a bus at 7 a.m. or earlier), talk to your folks about petitioning for later school times. Study after study shows kids have better grades and are happier if school times are moved up. Start a movement!

Physical activity
Unfortunately, a study last year found that at age 19 most Americans are as sedentary as a 60-year-old (who shouldn’t be sedentary either!). Screen time is a brain killer and heart dinger, and too much social media time ups your risk for depression. Aim to get out and about, whether as part of a sports team or by taking a jog with a pal, taking a Spin class or bicycling. Your minimum goal: 60 minutes of aerobic activity a day. We say 120 minutes is a lot better. You have the energy—use it!

Smart sports choices
Make sure you mix up your activities. If you stick with just one sport (early sport specialization) and overtrain, you risk early injury (you don’t want a college scholarship and then have a career-ending ACL tear). You also risk emotional repercussions such as loss of enthusiasm and lack of interest in competition.

Stress management
Between school pressures, social anxieties, conflict with parents and worry about the future, many teens report feeling daily stress. Regular physical activity helps dispel an amped-up stress response. Talking with friends, a favorite teacher, counselor or parents and siblings can help. So can declaring digital holidays (no Facebook this week!) and trying meditation (check out the Sharecare app for iOS and Android for instructions).

You may think we’re asking a lot of you—but we want you to have a healthy, happy future, so you can work, play, love, laugh and explore the world without having avoidable physical restrictions. Don’t you want, one day, to climb the steps of Switzerland’s Niesen Railway—all 11,674 of them? It’s the longest stairway in the world and open to hikers once a year when the Niesen Run takes place along the two-mile route (with 5,475 feet in elevation change). You can dream—and make dreams real, if you just start the journey toward good health today.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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