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What makes a healthy teenager?

Good grades and fun times are important aspects of the high school experience. But that happiness is often threatened by bullying at school, unhealthy weight and the temptations to party hard and hang with the "cool kids".

Parents need to play a strong role in ensuring their high school kids stay healthy. A lack of sleep and exercise, too many fatty snacks, and caffeine packed drinks don't produce a healthy teenager - but they can make for an overweight teen with a sleeping disorder and high stress levels. It is up to the parents to do what they can do to keep their teenagers in good health - both mentally and physically.

Breakfast - Don't skip breakfast!

Eating in the morning gets their metabolism going. What should they eat? How about some instant oatmeal, cream of wheat, fresh fruit, whole grain bagels, and/or low-fat yogurt. Even pancakes with maple syrup is better than nothing.

Waiting too long to eat causes over-eating and binging later - which can lead to eating disorders.

Snacks - Aim for the Morning and Afternoon!

Healthy snacks in the morning or afternoon boosts the metabolism. Snacking late at night, especially junk food, puts on extra weight. The body's metabolism slows down during sleep, which causes much of the bedtime snack to be stored as fat. Encourage your teens to snack during the day, around 10 AM and 2 PM, and to eat healthy snacks they enjoy.

Sleep - As if teenagers don't sleep enough already!

Experts agree that teenagers need 9 hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, sleep isn't always a major priority for them. Teenagers should keep a regular bedtime so they know when they should be going to bed and when they are getting up. This will prevent sleep disorders and higher stress levels, and a proper night's sleep prevents over-eating on sugary/caffeine foods during the day. Most teens don't appreciate the benefits from sleep, such as improved mood, improved cognitive functioning, and better academic performance, because they become too easily obsessed with certain social activities - such as chatting online and texting these days

Teenagers should avoid late night studying and caffeine drinks after 2 pm. They should begin winding down (relaxing) about an hour before bedtime. They should also avoid exercise during that time too. During this time they should avoid bright light sources, including looking directly into a computer screen or television. This also means no fast-paced video games in the late evening hours.

Many teens stay up late at night text messaging friends. A "no cell phone in the bedroom at night rule" may be unpopular with your teenager, but sleep is more important than unnecessary text messages.

Nutrition - Aim for Balance!

Teenagers should eat a balance of vegetarian proteins or lean meats, whole grains, high fiber carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. Teach your teens to eat only when they're hungry. Many teens eat due to boredom or stress. Healthy snacks should be encouraged if they are eating due to boredom so try and find out what foods they like best that are healthy. One way to do this is to send them to the grocery store to buy fruit and see what they come back with. eg. Watermelons.

Exercise - 60 Minutes per Day!

Experts say that teens get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. They need a good balance of activities including aerobic, flexibility, and strength exercises. The benefits include building and maintaining healthy muscles, bones, and joints; Controls weight; Reduces Fat;  Releases Endorphins, Better Sleep.

Teens should avoid exercising too close to bedtime.

Controlling Weight - Making Exercise Fun

Teenagers get bored really easily unless it is an activity they really enjoy. Try to find what activities they are interested in doing and then sign them up for lessons in that activity.

It could be something more unusual like archery, fencing, Kendo, martial arts... or it could be a sport like tennis or football, in which case for team sports they may need to train hard to join a school team or they may need to join a team that is more for fun.

The production of endorphins, which makes people feel happy, is increased when doing fun exercise activities - It is also addictive and teenagers hooked on a fun exercise activity (like skateboarding or rollerblading) will want to keep doing it. Such exercise can help teenagers who struggle with mild depression and help them to break away from addiction to video games (which also produces endorphins from the mental stimulation).

Most teenagers aren't too concerned about their health. Parents need to set rules and encourage a healthy lifestyle to ensure their teens stay healthy. Set a "no cheese puffs/text messaging/caffeine cola/action video game before bedtime" rule may seem rather strict, but if you can get your teenager out there playing tennis or doing archery instead it will be worth it because you will be setting them on a life of healthy balances.

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