How Much Exercise Does Your Teen Really Need?

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Today’s digital world lends itself to a sedentary lifestyle for teens. Most teens spend countless hours each week sitting behind a computer screen and playing video games. Yet the statistics are clear—teens who exercise regularly are more likely to develop healthier lifelong habits than teens who don’t.

If your teen’s a bit of a “slouch potato” it’s important to take steps to encourage him to get up and get moving. Regular exercise can have tremendous benefits for your teen’s physical and mental health.

Happy smiling boy on a bicycle ride with his Father
Sally Anscombe / Getty Images 

Exercise Recommendations for Teens

Doctors recommend that teens age 13 to 18 get at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week. The minimum amount should be 30 minutes three times a week. Not all teens meet the ideal amount, but if your teen can get 30 to 60 minutes a day three or four days a week—that’s a start.

Teens who play sports may already get plenty of exercise in their practices and games. Yet, those who aren’t interested in structured team sports may struggle to squeeze in regular exercise.

Any regular physical exercise for 30 to 60 minutes a few days a week will improve their health and fitness level. You can work out a plan with your teen that’s easy to implement and one they will benefit from. Here are a few fun ways for your teen to get the recommended amounts of exercise every day:

  • In-line skating, skateboarding, shooting hoops in the driveway, or riding a bicycle
  • Swimming in a community pool
  • Walking the dog—or a neighbor’s dog if you don’t have one
  • Running errands on foot, skateboard, or by bicycle (even if the teen has a driver’s license)
  • Performing rigorous chores like mowing the lawn or raking leaves

Use what tools are available in your community already. Running up and down bleachers, doing chin-ups at a local park, or running around a track can be excellent ways to get exercise free of charge.

How Much Is Too Much? 

Sometimes getting teens to exercise isn’t the problem—instead, the problem is that a teen exercises too much. Too much exercise can actually be a serious problem that can take a toll on your teen’s physical and mental health.

Compulsive exercising is a real problem that has been linked to eating disorders. Teens who experience guilt and anxiety related to gaining weight may spend hours each day trying to burn off the extra calories. Teens who feel a lot of pressure to be thin or to have a certain body type may try to work out in an attempt to improve their appearance.

Here are a few warning signs that your teen is exercising too much:

  • Your teen makes exercise the focus of his life, ignoring friends, responsibilities, and commitments.
  • Your teen exercises several times every day or worries about putting on an ounce of weight.
  • Your teen suffers sprains or fractures or other injuries but continues to work out.

How to Encourage Healthy Exercise

The best way to ensure your teen is getting healthy doses of daily exercise is to be a good role model. Telling your teen to exercise while you sit on the couch isn’t likely to be effective. Get involved in family activities that involve healthy doses of physical activity. Go hiking, play tennis, or just go for a family walk together.

Limit your teen's screen time as indoor activities often lead to a sedentary lifestyle. Often, once a teen gets up and moving, they will feel more energized. Encourage your teen to put away the electronics and step outside.

Talk to your teen often about the importance of exercise, but keep the emphasis on health, not weight. Although obesity is a major problem among teens, eating disorders can also be life-threatening.

Talk about the importance of having strong muscles and healthy bones. If your teen seems to have body image issues, seek professional help.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity: Children.

  2. Harvard School of Public Health. The nutrition source, physical activity guidelines: How much exercise do you need?

  3. KidsHealth by Nemours. Fitness and your 13-to 18-year old.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, author of the bestselling book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," and a highly sought-after speaker.