Are We Using the Right Tools and Words to Inspire Teens to Exercise?

Posted 04/10/2017 | By HealthCorps

Teens are tough.  So parents tend to pick their battles carefully and getting a teen to exercise more can be one tough battle.  So it’s crucial for individuals responsible for inspiring more physical activity – parents, teachers, coaches, and doctors – to use the right methods that will communicate and inspire teens to move more.  A new study suggests that we may be going about this the wrong way.

A team of researchers at the University of Kansas asked twenty six teens to track their “mood and energy levels” four times a day for 20 days, using Android smartphone technology.   The teens also wore tracking devices for 24 hours a day during the four days and physical activity was tracked as well.  The researchers then correlated that data with the physical activity that was tracked during the same time frame.

During the tracking periods, the teens were prompted to rate their mood as “positive” (when they were feeling happy), “negative” (when they were feeling sad, and to rate energy (feeling energized versus feeling fatigued) via short surveys that they were filling out each time they checked in on the smartphone.

The results of the study were a bit surprising.  Researchers expected to find that teens who felt “energized and happy” would exercise more.  This held true for some teens, but not for others.  While some of the subjects exercised more when they were “happy and energized,” others did not exercise at all during those mood periods.  So clinicians or coaches might think that if a teen is sharing more positive mood attributes during a conversation, it might be the perfect time to suggest engaging with more exercise or physical activity.  This one-size-fits-all approach would fail miserably with the certain teens.  A long term goal of the research would be to design interventions that are patient-specific in terms of when is the optimal time to discuss exercise with a teen.

Another outcome from the study was the finding that the teens were willing to engage in a somewhat laborious study that required a check in four times a day, and a willingness to wear a monitor, fulltime, for several days.  The teens’ willingness to commit to the research showed that they valued participating in a study that would reveal how they feel about certain health behaviors, especially if they rated the importance of those behaviors as important enough to track or improve.

The teen years are a crucial time to intercept lifestyle behaviors, because once these teens hit adulthood, their diet and exercise patterns are pretty well-established.  If patterns of sedentary behavior remain established in adolescent years, it can be extremely hard to inspire more activity in adulthood.

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