Body Boosters

Diet, nutrition & physical activity

Maintaining a healthy diet is very important, especially for young people. Recent statistics show many young people go to school without breakfast and go through the school day without a proper lunch. At the other end of the scale, increasing numbers of young people in Australia are overweight or obese. Obesity is not only unhealthy in itself, but can lead to serious health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

A balanced diet and regular exercise gives the growing body the best chance to prevent fatigue, maintain concentration, deal with problems at school and home, and participate in sport and other activities using the body and your brain.

What should my family and I do?

There are many ways to promote good health through diet and exercise – and research shows they are most effective when the whole family is involved.

Families can work together to achieve good health by:

  • Regularly checking growth patterns, height and weight against age-group norms - and consulting a doctor if there is concern that a young person is too far outside ‘average’ ranges.
  • The whole family eating healthy balanced meals based on the essential food groups.
  • Eating three nutritious meals a day – including breakfast, which has been shown to have dramatic effects on young people’s academic results and fatigue levels.
  • Including healthy snacks in lunchboxes – and at home. Limit ‘junk food’ alternatives.
  • Drinking lots of water. The recommended daily water intake for a young person aged 13 and over is 8-10 glasses a day (2 litres).
  • Limit sweet drinks. A 250ml cup of apple juice or cola contains up to six teaspoons of sugar. Add it up: just one can of soft drink per day adds 18 kilos of sugar to your diet each year!
  • Playing sport and be physically active. Aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, including vigorous activities that make you ‘huff and puff’. If you don’t enjoy the sports available at school, consider joining a club you think you would enjoy, or find other ways to be active.
  • Getting active together! Go for walks or bike rides after dinner, or find a local park where you can kick a footy or throw a ball around. Walk to the shops or bus stop, and use stairs rather than lifts when you can.
  • Suggesting that your family eat dinner together at the table, rather than watching television.
  • Considering introducing a household limit of two hours a day ‘screen time’ – that’s TV, phones and computers – beyond homework requirements.

What should I do to be healthy?

Nutritionists have devised plans and suggestions that contribute to healthy eating patterns for young people.

However, the guidelines don’t – or can’t – apply to every young person.

As a guide, however, it’s ideal for young people to:
  • Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruit
  • Drink fat-reduced milk
  • Eat plenty of cereals, including wholegrain bread, rice, pasta and noodles
  • Include protein sources such as lean red meat, fish, chicken and other poultry, or alternatives, in your diet
  • Limit the consumption of ‘junk food,’ including takeaways, chips, cakes, lollies and other fatty foods.
Everyone in the family should eat healthy balanced meals based on the essential food groups.
  • Replace soft drinks and other sweetened drinks with water (and sometimes milk)
  • Choose foods low in salt
  • Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated – and even more in hot weather
  • Try to choose food products with minimal preservatives and artificial additives when shopping.

What should I eat each day?

Individual teens vary a lot in the amount they want and need to eat. And anyone’s appetite can be affected temporarily – especially by illness or being worried about a big event, such as an exam or grand final. But to ensure your body is absorbing the essential nutrients it requires each day – including iron, calcium and vitamins, all of which your body needs to work properly - try and include the following foods in your diet each day:
  • 2 to 3 serves of dairy – milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • 2.5 serves of protein – meat, chicken and other poultry, fish,dried beans, eggs and nuts
  • 5 serves of vegetables
  • 2 serves of fruit – not sweetened canned fruit
  • 6 serves of cereals – wholegrain bread, breakfast cereals (preferably unsweetened), rice and pasta.
Remember, your body is a machine that needs specific ‘fuels’ to work at its best. If your friends don’t seem to care about the fuel they put in their ‘machines’, just imagine how much better your brain is working, how much longer your legs will carry you, and what you may look like compared to them in 20 years or so.

If your family doesn’t place a priority on healthy eating, ask if you can help prepare the meals. Breakfast and lunch are probably the easiest meals in which you can choose your own ingredients – ask for Weetbix or wholegrain toast, and place the items you require – fruit, vegetables, sandwich fillings – on the shopping list. Point out that it’s cheaper to make your own lunch than to buy it!

Physical activity plays an important role in you being able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, at or near the ‘normal’ range for your height and body type.

Why is physical activity important?

As you move through school, start work and become more independent, being physically active and limiting sedentary behaviour every day is not always easy, but it is possible and it is important. Sedentary behaviour is when you are sitting or lying down (except for when you are sleeping).

Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for all young people aged 13–17 years, irrespective of cultural background, gender or ability includes:

Doing a variety of moderate to vigorous intensity activity for 60 minutes each day (swimming, tennis, fast walking, dancing or bike riding)…..and greater amounts of activity each day, up to three hours, will benefit you even more.

That might include…30 minutes walking to and from the bus stop or train station and 30 minutes of a dance class, sport or kicking the footy with friends = 60 minutes.

Did you know….9 in 10 Australian young people don’t move enough?

There are many benefits to being physically active and limiting sedentary behaviour:
  • Creates opportunities for fun with friends
  • Reduces anti-social behaviour, including aggressive and disruptive actions
  • Improves self esteem and confidence
  • Helps you manage anxiety and stress
  • Improves physical fitness, including coordination and movement skills
  • Reduces your risk of disease and unhealthy weight gain.

Source: The Australian Government Department of Health.

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