By Marybeth Bock —

It’s summer – school is out, and you’ve got more free time on your hands. For many girls, it’s the perfect opportunity to start, or re-start, a fitness program. Perhaps it could be one you’ve never tried before or one that you gave up on in the past.

How do you start safely, and stay motivated? And how do you know if you’re doing enough, or taking it too far? Here are some helpful tips to get you up and moving, and to turn your summer activities into lifelong, healthy habits.

Why Exercise?

Far too many people begin a fitness program with only a single goal in mind: to lose weight and look “better”. Living in Arizona, this is pretty tempting when thoughts turn to summer and all the opportunities to be in your bathing suit at the pool. It’s easy to feel that pressure to find a “quick fix”that involves eating very little and obsessively exercising for a few weeks to drop some pounds.

But regular physical activity has so many more benefits than simply weight loss or weight maintenance.

Physically, it helps your bones grow stronger, and your teen years are when you are building a great deal of your bone mass. It will strengthen your heart and your lungs and help prevent you from developing some diseases as you age-like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer – which are all conditions that are becoming more common in younger people.

And just as great, there are many benefits from exercise for your mental health as well. Physical activity causes our brains to produce endorphins – the “feel good” chemicals. When you are exercising regularly, here’s what you can expect: more energy, better sleep, improved mood and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, increased feelings of self-esteem, and better performance in school. What’s not to like about all of that?

Ready to Get Started?

If you haven’t been active in a while, starting off slowly is important. Begin with what you can easily do and add a little more time or intensity each day.The goal for teens is to aim for 60 minutes of activity each day. That can be accomplished all at once or broken down into smaller time segments. Maybe walking is all you can handle at first, and that’s great.

Most of your daily 60 minutes of activity should be aerobic, also known as “cardio”.This is any kind of movement that gets your heart pumping and makes it a bit difficult to carry on a conversation. Examples are dancing, running, swimming laps and taking a spin class.

The most important thing is to find an activity, or even better – a few activities- that you find FUN! And here’s why: you’re much more apt to stick with them, you’ll probably find at least one friend who will want to do them with you, and you’ll avoid becoming bored because it’s enjoyable.

Workouts to Try

First of all, don’t assume that you have to join a fancy gym or buy a bunch of pricey equipment to start working out. Quite a lot of exercise can be done at home, at your local or city park, and at affordable places like the YMCA and The Boys and Girls Club.

In addition to the cardio options mentioned above, some others to try include jumping rope, water aerobics, Zumba, and other dance-based workouts.

Activities that strengthen your muscles and bones are equally important and should also be added into any exercise program.Examples are things like push-ups, squats, martial arts, lifting weights, and sports where your feet are pushing against the ground- such as tennis, volleyball and basketball. If you decide to add any kind of weight-lifting to your routine, start off with an experienced instructor to show you what to do and prevent injuries from happening.

The importance of stretching can’t be left out either. The best time to stretch is after you’ve warmed up for five to ten minutes, and at the end of your work out. Stretching increases your flexibility and may help prevent injury while you are working out. Yoga and Pilates – or PiYo classes which combine elements of both – are excellent workouts to try that help with both strengthening muscles and bones.

How Can I Work out in the Summer Heat of Arizona?

Unless you are in the pool, we all know it would be pretty foolish to attempt outdoor workouts during most of the day while it’s summer in the desert. Of course, getting up super early, or waiting until after dark are options, but may not be safe or convenient. Working out at a gym or a fitness club makes sense, but what if you’re not interested in going or find it hard to stay motivated to get yourself there? Your house or apartment can easily be transformed into exercise space.

You can find every kind of home workout imaginable on YouTube, and if you have a Netflix subscription or have Amazon Prime, you’ll find countless workout videos on those platforms as well. Simple items around your house, like soup cans or water bottles can serve as free weights, and climbing stairs if you have them, is like having a StairMaster right at home.

Am I Doing Too Much?

You may have heard the saying, “No pain, no gain” when it comes to exercise, but it’s simply not true. When first starting out, you may feel some soreness, especially if you haven’t been used to any exercise, but feeling real pain is definitely a sign that you are doing too much or have injured yourself in some way. Another red flag is if you feel exhausted all the time or your period stops. See your doctor if either of those things happen.

Working out can and should be fun. Music, variety and friends all help to make it something you can turn into a lifelong habit. An hour of exercise is guaranteed to make you much happier than an hour of social media screen time.


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