The rise of the fitness culture

Exercise plays more important role in teen life today

A woman prepares to exercise.

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A woman prepares to exercise. Source: freedigitalphotos.net

Lacey Robertson, Staff Writer

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The sight of fifteen glow-in-the-dark spin bicycles lined in three rows of five in the combination with the sound of pounding electronic music is what greets senior Grace Hogan as she steps into Infinity Fitness AZ for a workout with her varsity tennis team.

As soon as the clock strikes 3:30 on Friday afternoons during season, she and the rest of her teammates are expected to meet for their weekly cycling or boxing workout sessions as requested by head coach Shelley Dinges, who believes this will improve the team’s overall athletic ability and physical condition.

Staying fit through regular exercise has been proven to be beneficial both for one’s outer and inner health, and fit culture is being promoted now more than ever through social media.

Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 should do 60 minutes of physical activity a day that includes aerobics, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening, according to the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Adults should try to incorporate at least 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise into their weeks in order to stay healthy, according to a study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Source: familymwr; creativecommons.org
Participants run in a race to stay fit. Here is a look at students’ fitness favorites. 

In a study reported in The Washington Post, the benefits of exercising regularly include “reducing the risk of cancer, anxiety and depression; improving cognitive function and sleep.”

From the results of a survey that was sent to NDP students from each grade level, 93.3 percent of the respondents agreed that exercising improved their mood.

Fitness and health culture is prominent across the nation, but it particularly noticeable in closer to home in Scottsdale. Popular gyms that are frequented by NDP students like The Village and Lifetime, and the rising amount of boutique fitness studios such as Orangetheory Fitness and the celebrity-loved Soulcycle.

The Village and Lifetime Fitness are similar because they are both large gyms with individual training options, group classes, and other health and nutrition amenities like sport courts and cafés.

Orangetheory Fitness and Soulcycle both offer group fitness classes, except as stated on their website, Orangetheory is “based on high intensity interval training that blends cardiovascular and strength training” while Soulcycle is indoor cycling.

No matter where the active high schoolers of NDP decide to get a workout in, a positive impact on one’s mental and physical health is being felt.

Even though the tennis team’s weekly workout Infinity Fitness AZ may not sound like the most desirable way to be spending a Friday afternoon, the members recognize the benefit on keeping up with cardiovascular health and strength.

“We also do kickboxing, and it’s a lot of punching bags and running up and down stairs. And we do yoga for like 30 minutes after,” Hogan said.

“The coach is on an elevated surface in front of the room on her bike and she usually wears a light color so you can see her,” Hogan said, “She plays music that matches the intensity of the workout and makes you turn a dial so it feels like you’re going up a hill.”

Fellow member of the tennis team and senior Rachel Sodhi said, “I feel like they [the workouts] help us and we have fun together.”

Along with that, senior Grace Hogan states that working out regularly “helps with stamina on the court.”

No matter if one is exercising to be fit for sports, to be trendy, or to simply look and feel good, it is a lifestyle that has been proven to promote healthy living and positive habits.

Fitness of a student athlete

Whether one may be an NCAA Division 1 bound athlete or a student trying to stay healthy, many are finding that regularly exercising can actually greatly improve one’s mood and attitude in life.

For NDP senior and varsity volleyball player Aneliesa Cartledge, staying fit is a significant part of her life not only for her health, but for her commitment to her sport.

This is the case for many student-athletes because if cardiovascular health and physical strength is not prioritized, athletes may not be able to perform in their sport to the best of their ability.

For many student-athletes, being part of a team goes deeper than just playing a sport. According to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise that was done on Australians who participate in club sports, the social connection along with the physical activity that comes with playing on a team are proven to positively impact mental health.

Cartledge, who has been playing volleyball for roughly nine years, says that she was inspired to play the sport because it was in the family.

“Both of my sisters played, so I wanted to start,” she explains.

Since making the decision to follow in her sisters’ footsteps, she has played for the NDP volleyball team for four years and for her new club team AZ Storm for one year.

Her favorite part of the sport is “the competitive aspect and being part of a team.”

This idea of being a part of an active sports team is more impactful than one might think.

The Australian survey found that the group of women in their study who participated in club sports have overall better mental health and satisfaction with life than those who choose to get their physical activity and exercise from working out alone in a gym.

Since Cartledge is committed to play Division 1 volleyball at Fordham University in fall 2019, she said she makes sure to always be working on her skills and overall fitness year round.

“There’s really no offseason,” she said with a slight smile, “I’m either in the weight room with Coach Derry or training with my club team”.

Even though fitness is a priority in her life because she wants to be at the top in her sport, Cartledge still has to balance being a student with all her athletic responsibilities.

“Time management and finding enough time to do schoolwork with my training schedule is always a challenge” Cartledge said.

Many student-athletes around the globe share the same struggle as Cartledge. A study by Susanne Cosh and Philip Tully for Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that an alarming number of student-athletes cited their goal in school being to “just pass” and that they had to sacrifice educational success in order to fully pursue their sport. Time was also stated as the number one barrier between the successful integration of sports and schoolwork.

Being in the best shape both physically and skill-wise is important to Cartledge, but she does emphasize the struggle of balancing that with school.

Working out is not exclusive to student-athletes, though.

How exercise benefits a busy high schooler

Many students incorporate working out into their busy days and make it a priority to stay fit both for their mental and physical health.

Senior Adelina Martins, who is the captain of St. George House and has been involved in student government throughout high school, does not play a sport this year, but she works out outside of school often.

“I try to work out at least two or three times during the school week, but my schedule can get crazy with House captain stuff and schoolwork, so I can’t go every day like I probably should,” said Martins.

According to Center of Disease Control’s data from the National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition study, 12.2 percent of high school students do the recommended 60 minutes of aerobic exercise daily and muscle strengthening 3 or days a week.

“I usually work out at Lifetime Fitness on Mayo because it’s easy for me to get to being so close to my house,” said Martins.

When working out, her focus is on her cardiovascular fitness, although she does incorporate strength exercises if she has the time.

“My cousin and I like going on the elliptical or treadmill at the same time, and sometimes we’ll do some squats or leg presses,” said Martins.

Exercising is certainly beneficial to high schoolers physical and cardiac health, but exercising has also been proven to positively affect one’s mood and mental health.

In Scott Paluska and Thomas Schwenk’s online article Physical Health and Mental Health, aerobic exercise has been proven to reduce depressive symptoms significantly. Studies on mental health and exercise in adolescents is limited, but it has been found that anxiety and depression symptoms can improve with regular exercise, and the benefits can be equated to the benefits experienced when treating the same issues with medication.

“If I’m really stressed I’ve noticed that as soon as I start my workout, I start feeling better. After the workout, my mood is completely changed and I feel like I can focus more on whatever else I have to do that day,” said Martins.

Because she has mad exercising such an integral part of her weekly routine, she even claims that not being able to go run a mile or lift some weights negativity impacts her day.

“When I can’t go [to the gym] I feel lazy,” she said, “Going to the gym is like an outlet for me and a way to distress, so if I can’t go I’ll just end up feeling tired and lazy for the rest of the day.”

Exercise for high school students goes beyond just staying fit and healthy on the outside. It can actually change how one feels mentally, and can improve students’ overall high school experience both socially and academically.

“When I’m active I think I’m just a happier and more energetic person. If I have energy I can do better work at school and be a better friend to the people around me,” said Martins.

Social media’s effect on teen fitness habits

While many students are self-motivated enough to go to the gym for their own goals, some seek inspiration from famous bloggers or Instagram “influencers” in order to stay healthy.

“I follow about three fitness accounts, and I started following them probably during freshman year,” senior Brielle Curley said.

Rannie Teodoro and Mor Naaman from the School of Communication & Information at Rutgers University created a study focusing on social media and health in which they conducted twelve semi-structured interviews with Twitter users who regularly post exercise, weight, and diet activity.

From these interviews, it was concluded that all of the participants following Twitter accounts that regularly tweet about fitness liked this because, it “allowed them to discover health-related information and people they would not have otherwise learned.”

Teodoro and Naaman’s study stated that “This included links to bloggers, fitness videos, recipes, events, tips, and inspirational quotes”.

“I follow fitness accounts because it’s motivation and it also shows exercises I can do” Curley said.

Some of the most followed female fitness influencers include Michelle Lewin, a 31-year-old from Venezuela, and Tammy Hembrow, a mom-of-two from Sydney, Australia. Lewin has an impressive 13 million Instagram followers, while Hembrow has 8.7 million.

“I follow people like Tammy Hembrow and Sommer Ray. They post like modeling and videos of exercises and what they eat and stuff,” Curley said.

“I honestly have a Pinterest exercise blog and I use those [exercises]. It’s a lot of ab workouts and other easy floor workouts or weight lifting that they demonstrate,” Curley said.

Pinterest’s website states their website as a place that inspires users “to discover and do what you love” while also helping users to “see a world of creativity and possibility”.

For Curley, the aspect of being able to copy exercises she says on various boards on the website is positive because it helps fuel her desire to exercise, but the models who promote the exercise sometimes make her feel like she has to live up to an unattainable standard.

“Seeing all the fitness posts make me feel bad about myself sometimes,” Curley said, “It’s hard not to catch yourself comparing your own looks to theirs”.

Evidently, the fitness culture is even more evident in the lives of teens now more than ever because of its prominence on social media.

But, this nationwide craze for exercise hasn’t always existed in the United States.

The growth of the American fitness trend 

An article published by the University of New Mexico explains that in colonial America, physical activity was done through “plowing the land for crops, hunting for food, and herding cattle”.

Fitness as it is today really started emerging in the 20th century.

In the 1950s, organizations began to educate the public about “the consequences of low fitness levels”, which brought exercising more into the light, and encouraged Americans to be active more regularly.

In the decades that followed, group fitness fads emerged, like Jazzercise, and fitness culture has been a staple in American society ever since then.

For many people, exercising is a way for one to stay both internally healthy and physically fit.

Surprisingly, of the group of NDP students surveyed about health and fitness 46.7 percent thought that exercising was not that important when it came to being physically fit.

Exercising not a weight loss drug 

Some doctors agree that exercise is not a main factor in maintaining a fit body.

Obesity doctor Yoni Freedhoff has a similar opinion, and he actually feels that exercising needs a “rebranding”.

“Exercise is not a weight loss drug,” Freedhoff stated, and he believes that if exercising is promoted as mainly a way to lose weight, it would “short-change the public about the genuinely incredible health benefits of exercise.”

Senior Tayler Nisser seems to agree with Freedhoff’s standpoint.

“I know people who look fit and I know they don’t work out. They talk about having a fast metabolism and they drink a lot of green tea,” said Nisser.

Even though many credible studies, such as the one published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, emphasize the importance of regular physical activity, many other new studies are finding that it really does not matter how often one exercises.

“From what I’ve heard from reading stories and articles, eating healthy account for only like 80 percent of health, so if you miss out on that 20 percent of exercising it’s not the majority and you might be able to lose weight and look good,” Nisser said.

Alice Park’s article that was published on Time’s website states that the frequency that one exercises does not impact life longevity.

Park references Gary O’Donovan, a research associate in the Exercise as Medicine program at Loughborough University in England, who analyzed data from more than 63,000 people and found that people who exercised most days of the week lowered their risk by 35 percent, not much different from those who did not exercise as much at 34 percent.

“I’m not an expert on this but I feel like exercising doesn’t hurt, but it’s still not the key to being fit. It varies from person to person,” said Nisser.

The future of fitness

As technology continues to develop, so will the way individuals workout and stay healthy.

Fitness junkies have become increasingly reliant on new technology like Fitbit, a wearable device that measures data like steps walked and heart rate, and Peloton, a stationary bike that always users to stream live virtual fitness classes.

“I like to use the health app on my phone or other running apps to track my progress,” said senior Courtney Rivard, who exercises at least three times a week.

The prominence of social media in today’s society has contributed to how teens and adults alike view staying healthy, and can even be motivation to workout.

“I definitely feel like working out more if I see others around me doing it. I don’t let others doing it make me feel bad about myself. It just makes me want to work harder so I can feel good,” said Rivard.

Promoting fit lifestyles that directly reach teens like NDP students will likely continue in the future with the rise of social media influencers, and if more of the population is exercising, then more people will experience that benefits of fitness: improved cardiovascular health and cognitive ability, muscle-strengthening, and an overall greater satisfaction in life, just to name a few.

“I feel happy that I live in a place like Scottsdale that’s so focused on fitness. It’s like the city is my gym and I’m surrounded by others who motivate me to keep going,” said Rivardg.

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