Health and weight


"… when I first went there [gym] I did three minutes on a cross-trainer and I was out of breath - I was sweating, it was just ridiculous. Now, yesterday I was on there twenty minutes."
There are two important messages when it comes to exercise:

• Exercise builds fitness regardless of whether weight loss happens 
• Weight loss will only happen if exercise is combined with calorie reduction
The young people we spoke to understood the importance of taking regular exercise and that the goal of exercise is to improve health not just a weight loss ‘tool’. But few young people had been given any detailed advice about exactly what they needed to do to help them lose weight and get fit. All of them knew they should walk as much as possible instead of taking the car or bus, but many found this difficult in practice and lacked the motivation to keep going.
Exercise requires encouragement and motivation. Some had parents or friends who helped to motivate them while others needed more support and information.
Some who exercised regularly had been encouraged by parents. Some parents had joined in exercise sessions with them but a few said it was difficult to find the time or motivate their child.
Being part of specialist programmes like SHINE (Self Help Independence, Nutrition and Exercise) also helped motivate some young people to lead more active lives. When they managed to lose some weight and got fitter, they felt a sense of achievement and were motivated to carry on.
Two people who had lived abroad when they were younger said that that it seemed too easy in UK schools to opt out of sport altogether. 
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Choosing the right exercise
Many young people had tried a variety of different kinds of exercise, finding that some were easier to stick at than others. Most young people had tried the gym and some had had advice about specific workouts using the treadmill, cycling and rowing machines. Girls liked trampolining and many had also tried dancing, cheerleading and swimming. Some found that there were barriers to them taking part in the particular sport that interested them.
Everyone thought that the gym took up quite a lot of time and needed a regular commitment; several had tried but eventually given up going to the gym because they did not get the results they had hoped for.
Several people believed that going to the gym cost too much, others though discovered that they were eligible for free/ subsidised gym membership. For information: ask your GP what is available in your local area regarding free gym membership for overweight people. In certain areas GP can prescribe a specific number of cardio/weight/aerobic sessions. Those who were students generally took advantage of university sports facilities.

Keeping active every day
Some young people talked about the importance of keeping active or ‘on the move’ throughout the day. For some young people walking is part of their daily routine. They walk to school, or into town, take the dog for a daily walk or use stairs rather than lifts. Some made it clear that joining an expensive gym is not necessary to get fit!
Not wanting to exercise
Only a few really disliked exercise and didn’t do any at all. They gave various reasons including;

• Not wanting to be seen in shorts or swimsuits
• Disliking competitive games
• Feeling too tired at the end of the day
• Living too far from a gym or sports facilities
• Preferring to watch TV or play on their computer
No one said that they disliked brisk walking or cycling, seeing these activities as different to more ‘organised and formal’ exercising like PE, team games and gym membership. 
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Parents found their children’s problems with exercise difficult to manage. Some said their children made excuses for not wanting to exercise, others felt disappointed because they hadn’t been able to find an appropriate exercise class for their children.
Exercise and being underweight
We also interviewed young people who were underweight and who often took too much exercise to burn off what they saw as excess calories. They would exercise whenever they ate anything, not because they wanted to get fit but because they wanted to lose more weight. Being at university and away from home and their parents meant that their excessive exercising often went unnoticed (see Obsessing about food) and young people’s experiences of eating disorders and exercise.

Last reviewed July 2017.


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