According to the Physical Activity Council’s 2012 Report, there are over 68 million inactive Americans, representing approximately 24% of the population over the age of 6. This is a slight increase over recent years, but the rise in inactivity has affected young adults (ages 18-24) the most. While inactivity rates among children and teenagers have fallen slightly, it is clear that being active as a young person leads to more participation in fitness activities as an adult. While motivation to exercise varies greatly, here are some ideas to help young people become more interested in fitness.
Make it social
Studies show that social groups can have a profound impact on health and fitness (Harvard Health Publications). For many young people, friends and social networks are some of the most important parts of their lives. Joining a group fitness class at a local gym or a fitness-based meetup group can be a great way for young people to make new contacts and friends who are committed to staying active and healthy. If social networking sounds intimidating, finding a friend to commit to a shared fitness goal (perhaps run a 5K) can benefit both.
One roadblock to becoming physically active is simply inertia. Someone who is accustomed to being sedentary will likely find it difficult and intimidating to take the first step toward fitness. However, even moderate physical activity over short periods of time can show demonstrable results. Try establishing a trial period with short-term goals. For instance, walk one mile several times this week, then see how much faster you can walk it next week. Especially if someone is used to activities with quick gratification (video or computer games for instance), seeing short-term results can build confidence and motivation.
Make it convenient
Many young people spend a lot of time working and establishing their careers. In a down economy, it’s easy to make the choice to log a few extra hours at work rather than use that time to go to the gym. Making fitness activities convenient for a busy lifestyle is a key way to engage young professionals. Hosting fitness classes at the office, a lunchtime walking group, or a running group that meets at the office directly after work hours are a few ideas to make fitness accessible.
Make it fun
Some people shudder at the idea of working out because it sounds like a painful chore. However, when you find the right activity, fitness can be a lot of fun. Some of the most popular fitness trends this year, according the the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends, are dance workouts like Zumba. There are also many non-competitive leagues for young people in a variety of sports (flag football, kickball, softball, or dodgeball, to name a few) that may be more fun than a typical trip to the gym. Being active does not need to look the same for everyone; emphasizing finding the activity that is fun for each person can help engage young people in fitness.
Emphasize productivity benefits
The physical and psychological benefits of regular exercise are well documented. However, for young people who sometimes feel invincible, the research alone is not convincing enough to take action. The results of inactivity may take years to show up as major health issues at the doctor’s office. For career-minded young people, however, showing them that increased fitness can actually boost their productivity and quality of work might give them the push they need. Jim McKenna’s research shows that exercise can impact work performance even on a day-to-day basis (WebMD summary of McKenna’s work). This has significant implications for students as well.
Engaging young people in fitness activities could have a significant impact on stopping the increase in inactivity rates in the United States. Choosing a healthy lifestyle need not mean giving up social connections or a career. In fact, picking the right activities can enhance all aspects of a young person’s life.