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Just Thinking About Exercise Affects Teen Health

Teen Health | Paradigm Malibu

Some teens are great athletes. They get plenty of exercise and there’s no reason to worry about whether they’ve been active enough. On the other hand, there are many teens that simply don’t exercise. They might not have the time or even the desire. Then, there are teens who don’t exercise as often as athletes but frequently feel that they’re not exercising enough. One recent study revealed that just thinking that you’re not exercising enough can impair your teen health.


The Study on Perception


A student at Stanford collaborated with her faculty advisor, Dr. Alia Crum, on a new study on teen health. They explored what might happen years later to an individual’s health when they have a pattern of believing that they don’t exercise enough. Octavia Zahrt co-authored the study with Dr. Crum, in which they surveyed participants on their physical activity, weight, smoking status, and how much they believe they exercise compared to others their own age. They also analyzed date from the following two previous studies:

Essentially, the study explored people’s mindset on their health.


The results of the study indicated that those who thought they were less active than others their age were more likely to experience health impairments and even die at an earlier age. These results stand true regardless of a person’s health, body mass index, and other pointers to positive health at the time of the study.


How Can Mindset Make a Difference in Teen Health


There may be a few reasons that contribute to mindset being a major predictor of teen health. However, some of them are still unclear. One thought as to why mindset makes so much of a difference has to do with the placebo effect. MedicineNet provides this definition of the placebo effect:


Also called the placebo response. A remarkable phenomenon in which a placebo — a fake treatment, an inactive substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution — can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful. Expectation too plays a potent role in the placebo effect. The more a person believes they are going to benefit from a treatment, the more likely it is that they will experience a benefit.


For instance, a person who unknowingly takes a placebo medication for depression may still experience the benefits of the medication simply because they believed that the medication would have an effect on them. “The belief you’re getting a pain medication,” said Crum, “can activate endogenous opiates in the brain.” In fact, in some cases, the placebo effect can be so powerful that even when someone knows they are taking a placebo, they still experience the health benefits of the fake medication.


The researchers of the study believe that a form of the placebo effect is playing a role, where thoughts about not exercising enough is creating a certain mind frame that leads to poor teen health. Adding to this is when people compare themselves to others. When you think that you’re not as active as someone as, for instance, it can put a damper on your motivation to exercise. Eventually, a person might become less and less active over time.


What this Means for Teens


Teens are at an age where they are frequently comparing themselves to others. Adolescence is a time of increasing social awareness and placing an emphasis on peer relationships. This means that if teens are comparing themselves to others when it comes to teen health, and if the above study is true, then there may be some consequences later on.


As mentioned above, there are some teens who get plenty of exercise – those who are athletes or frequently physically active. They are likely not worried about not exercising enough. However, there are many teens who simply don’t exercise. Social media, school, homework, and family responsibilities get in the way of getting the right amount of exercise.


Parents and teens might consider the following tips to stay healthy and to avoid health comparisons:


Find the right amount of exercise. Experts say that too much exercise for teens (over 17 hours per week) and too little exercise (zero to 3 hours per week) can eventually take a toll on a teen’s physical and even emotional health. According to research, teens who get roughly 10 hours of exercise per week will experience the most benefit. However, keeping the above study in mind, it’s best to find the right amount exercise that is right for you! Parents and teens might sit down together and come up with a plan that works uniquely for your teen. If it’s working for your teen and they are feeling the effects of exercise, then there might be little reason to compare how much they exercise with others.


Experience the benefits of exercise. Sometimes teens need to feel the benefits of exercise in their lives to stay motivated. Remember that the study pointed out that comparing yourself to others can sometimes dampen motivation to exercise. However, experiencing the ongoing effects of exercise can help make exercise a healthy habit. Here are a few ways in which exercise can be beneficial:

  • boosts positive emotions
  • reduces depression
  • lowers anxiety
  • improves self-esteem
  • improves cognitive functioning in teens

Research also points out that regular exercise can help with recovery (and even prevention) of depression. In fact, exercise has a great number of physical, emotional, and psychological benefits for the mind and body.


Avoid comparison to others. Although teens might naturally find themselves comparing their exercising habits with their peers, parents can encourage their teen to avoid doing so. In fact, parents might even share the results of the above study and praise their teen for the exercise they are currently doing. Praising your teen can send the message that they’re level and method of exercise is good. It can also stimulate motivation and regular exercise.


In Conclusion


This article explored how a teen’s mindset and thoughts about exercise can have effects on their health later in life.  With the help of their parents, teens can find the right amount of exercise that’s right for them and avoid comparing themselves to others.

Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.

Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.

Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.

In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.

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