abbas hussain (personal trainer and fitness consultant)

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You've probably heard countless times how exercise is "good for you" but did you know that it can actually help you feel good, too? Getting the right amount of exercise can rev up your energy levels and even help you to feel better emotionally.

Experts recommend that adults get more than 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. There are three components to a well-balanced exercise routine: aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility training.

Rewards and Benefits

Exercise benefits every part of the body, including the mind. Exercising causes the body to produce endorphins, chemicals that lead a person to feel peaceful and happy. Exercise can help some people sleep better. It can also help with mental health issues such as mild depression and self-esteem: If you feel strong and powerful, it can help you see yourself in a better light. Plus, exercise can give people a real sense of accomplishment and pride at having achieved a certain goal - like beating an old time in the 100-meter dash.

Exercising can help you look better, too. People who exercise burn calories and look more toned than those who don't. In fact, exercise is one of the most important parts of keeping your body at a healthy weight. When you exercise, you burn food calories as fuel. If a person eats more calories than he or she burns, the body stores them away as fat. Exercise can help burn these stored calories.

Exercising to maintain a healthy weight also decreases a person's risk of developing certain diseases, including type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. These diseases, which used to be found mostly in adults, are becoming more common in teens.

Finally, it may not seem important now, but exercise can help a person age well. Women are especially prone to a condition called osteoporosis (a weakening of the bones) as they get older. Studies have found that weight-bearing exercise, like running or brisk walking, can help girls (and guys!) keep their bones strong.

Aerobic Exercise

Like other muscles, the heart likes a good workout. You can provide it with one in the form of aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is any type of exercise that gets the heart pumping and the muscles using oxygen (you'll notice your body using oxygen as you breathe faster). When you give your heart this kind of workout on a regular basis, your heart will get stronger and more efficient in delivering oxygen (in the form of oxygen-carrying blood cells) to all parts of your body.

In addition to being active every day, experts recommend that teens get at least three 20-minute sessions a week of vigorous activity. If you play team sports, you're probably doing more than that recommendation, which is great! Some team sports that give you a great aerobic workout are swimming, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, and rowing.

But if you don't play team sports, don't worry; there are plenty of ways to get aerobic exercise on your own or with friends. These include biking, running, swimming, dancing, in-line skating, cross-country skiing, hiking, and walking quickly. In fact, the types of exercise that you do on your own are easier to continue when you leave high school and go on to work or college, making it easier to stay fit later in life as well.

Strength Training

The heart isn't the only muscle to benefit from regular exercise - most of the other muscles in your body enjoy exercise, too. When you use your muscles and they become stronger, it allows you to be active for longer periods of time without getting worn out. Strong muscles are also a plus because they actually help protect you when you exercise by supporting your joints and helping to prevent injuries. Muscle also burns more energy when a person's at rest than fat does, so building your muscles will help you burn more calories and maintain a healthy weight.

Different types of exercise strengthen different muscle groups, for example:

  • For arms, try rowing or cross-country skiing. Pull-ups and push-ups, those old gym class standbys, are also good for building arm muscles.
  • For strong legs, try running, biking, or skating.
  • For shapely abs, you can't beat rowing, bike riding, and crunches.

Flexibility Training

Strengthening the heart and other muscles isn't the only important goal of exercise. Exercise also helps the body stay flexible, meaning that your muscles and joints stretch and bend easily. People who are flexible can worry less about strained muscles and sprains. Flexibility can also help improve a person's sports performance. Some activities, like dance or martial arts, obviously require great flexibility, but increased flexibility can also help people perform better at other sports, such as soccer or lacrosse.

Sports and activities that encourage flexibility are easy to find. Many high schools have gymnastics programs. Martial arts like karate also help a person stay flexible. Ballet, pilates, and yoga are other good choices. Warming up for a workout and doing simple stretching exercises after your workout also help you develop flexibility.

What's Right for Me?

One of the biggest reasons people drop an exercise program is lack of interest: If what you're doing isn't fun, it's hard to keep it up. The good news is that there are tons of different sports and activities that you can try out to see which one inspires you.

When picking the right type of exercise for you it can help to consider your workout personality. For example, do you like to work out alone and on your own schedule (in which case solo sports like biking or snowboarding may be for you), or do you like the shared motivation and companionship that comes from being part of a team? You also need to factor in practical considerations, such as whether your chosen activity is affordable and accessible to you (activities like horse riding are harder for people who live in cities, for example) and how much time you can set aside for your sport.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Like all good things, it's possible to overdose on exercise. Although exercising is a great way to maintain a healthy weight, exercising too much to lose weight isn't healthy. The body needs enough calories to function properly. Remember that you're still growing and will continue to do so throughout your teen years. You'll need the energy to fuel the growth.

exercising too much in an effort to burn calories and lose weight can be a sign of an eating disorder. If you have any doubts about how much you should be exercising, talk with a school nurse or family doctor. And if you ever get the feeling that your exercise is in charge of you rather than the other way around, talk with your doctor, a parent, or another adult you trust.

Some girls who overexercise may stop getting their periods, a condition known as amenorrhea (pronounced: a-meh-nuh-ree-uh). Girls who regularly miss periods are less able to incorporate calcium into their bones, which can lead to the decreased bone density and increased risk of injury that goes with osteoporosis. The combination of amenorrhea, disordered eating, and osteoporosis is a condition called female athelete triad

Considering the benefits to the heart, muscles, joints, and mind, it's easy to see why exercise is wise. If you exercise now, keep it up as you become an adult (this is often the biggest exercise challenge for people as they get busy with college and careers). One of the great things about exercise is that it's never too late to start. And don't forget that even small things can count as exercise when you're starting out - like taking a short bike ride or raking leaves. Even walking your dog counts as part of your 60 minutes a day of exercise (and your vet will tell you that animals need workouts just like humans do, so if your family pooch is portly, he'll benefit from your dedication, too).

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