Last year, at a dryland training practice for a club swim team, the coach introduced a stretching technique he called “decompression.” The problem that he aimed to address was general muscle pains and back aches that he said teenagers suffer from because we spend hours a day hunched over, looking at our phones. While most would say phones are not the sole villain here, we do spend way too many hours a day sitting down, hunched over our desks at school, and many more at home doing homework. Of course, as teenagers we can’t prevent this; we have to go to school. But we can counteract it.
Kaja Arusha, a senior at Berkeley High School (BHS) and competitive swimmer who practices for about 13 hours a week, loves exercise. “I love pushing myself and seeing how much I’ve improved,” she said. “Working out shows that hard work pays off. I can feel and see changes. In a lot of other areas, the reward isn’t always as explicit.”
The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that teenagers do an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a dayreduce the chance of developing serious health conditions later in life. “I notice positive effects of exercise on my physical health,” said Arusha. “I usually just feel good. I can breathe silently and walk to the third floor G building without getting winded.”
Obviously, exercise alone cannot cure serious cases of depression and anxiety. However, studies show that it can improve mental health. Exercise positively impacts serotonin levels and releases endorphins, two chemicals that drive positive emotions. “I love the endorphins. For me, there is little that compares with the pure elation and satisfaction that accompanies finishing a particularly tough practice” said Arusha. Additionally, exercise lowers levels of cortisol — a stress hormone, increases self-esteem, and improves sleep. “Exercise improves my mental health by providing me with personal goals, a well-defined routine, and fulfillment,” said Arusha.
Little kids often spend much of their days being active, running around at recess, and playing on play structures. As teenagers, our lives become more stationary, and it becomes much harder to get that simple, yet necessary, movement. It can be hard to find the time, and for Arusha, swimming sometimes prevents her from doing other fun things and adds stress to her schoolwork. However, even if it’s just going for a bike ride, a hike, or a short run, exercise can positively impact our lives.