Puberty and Growth - Physical fitness

It is important for young people to understand the major benefits of daily exercise. Good physical conditioning is as important as weight control during the teen years. While not everybody can be an athletic champion, almost anyone can improve his or her heart, lungs, and muscles. All that is required is time, discipline, determination, and patience. Teenagers are advised to join school athletic teams or exercise independently after school. Walking to school rather than driving is another means of getting exercise.

Exercise Goals

One of the goals of physical conditioning for teenagers is to tone and develop muscles. Muscles that are exercised regularly will grow in size and strength. Those that are not will atrophy (shrink in size).

Exercise allows for an increase in the number of individual muscle fibers as well as an increase in the number of blood capillaries that supply the muscle tissue with nutritive substances. Consequently, the muscles become more efficient and more toned.

In addition to muscle development, physical conditioning should include optimum cardiopulmonary fitness. The increase in heart activity and oxygen consumption is the basis for aerobic workouts. Aerobic means, literally, “with oxygen.” Aerobic training involves maintaining a steady rate of physical activity so that the heart, lungs, and muscles work together at a level that is more demanding than a body's state of rest. Jogging, running, and rapid walking are common examples of aerobic training.

Exercise Precautions

The individual goals should be kept within sensible limits to avoid injury or impaired health. Overexertion can cause dizziness, nausea, and hyper-ventilation. Teenagers should avoid excessive exercise during severely hot and humid weather. To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of water before and after exercising.

Choosing Proper Equipment

When exercising, it is essential that a teenager use proper athletic gear to avoid injuries. The knees are one of the most vulnerable body parts. As such, a teenager must be fitted with high-quality athletic shoes, which should be replaced as soon as they wear out. A podiatrist can provide insoles for proper foot balance for pavement or grass field. Protective gear, such as a mouth piece, shin guard, or riding helmet, is also important.

The Use of Steroids

In recent years, a substantial number of teenagers have been abusing steroids in the hope of improving physical appearance, self-image, and enhancing athletic performance. While this nonmedical use of anabolic steroids is illegal, teenage use is rampant. As many as half a million teens under the age of eighteen have admitted experimenting with these dangerous drugs.

Considerable risks exist for those who take steroids, especially those at a young age. Adverse physical effects include acne, stunted growth, vomiting, disturbed hormonal function, heart and kidney disease, liver disorders, and immune system deficiencies. Young males, specifically, may suffer shrinking of the testicles, balding, impotence, and enhanced breast development. Young females may suffer changes or cessation of the menstrual cycle, development of facial hair, breast reduction, and deepened voices. Serious psychological and physiological effects may occur. Users of steroids risk a long-term dependence or addiction. Teenage abusers may experience “roid rages,” consisting of irritability, violent behavior, mania, psychosis, followed by depression once the drug has left the body. In some cases, suicide has occurred.

In recent years, treatment programs have been developed to treat steroid abusers. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offers a hotline, 800/662-HELP, a confidential information and referral line that directs callers to drug abuse treatment centers in their community.

Care of the teeth

During the teen years, careful supervision by the dentist and cooperation from the teenager are especially necessary. The poor eating habits of many teenagers are reflected in their cavity rate, which is usually higher during adolescence than in later life.

If a young person is conscientious about oral care, he can avoid not only a high cavity rate, but also bad breath and the unpleasant appearance of food particles left on the teeth. These problems are really caused by the same thing— dental plaque . For more information on this subject, see Ch. 22, The Teeth and Gums .

Need for Frequent Checkups

During the adolescent period, the dentist will often recommend more frequent checkups than in the past. Small cavities are treated before they become deeper and infect the pulp, the inner chamber of the tooth, containing nerves and blood vessels. Should the pulp become infected, the tooth must have special treatment, usually a root canal process, or be extracted.

The dentist also treats tooth decay, or caries , more popularly known as cavities, to prevent their spread. Cavities begin as a break in the tooth surface, which later enlarges. Food debris can become lodged in the cavity, be attacked by bacteria, and cause a cavity on the next tooth. The only way to avoid such a problem is to have the affected tooth treated immediately.

Front teeth often decay for the first time during this period. They are restored with a silicate or plastic filling close in color to the tooth rather than silver or gold, which would be unattractive. Unfortunately, these materials are not permanent and will need to be replaced in time. As a result, neglect of diet and oral cleanliness by an adolescent may mean that he may need many replacement fillings in the same cavity over his lifetime.

Orthodontic Treatment

The development and growth of teeth is completed during the adolescent period. When oral growth is improper, the adolescent needs treatment by an orthodontist , a dental specialist who treats abnormalities of the bite and alignment of teeth and jaws. Correction of such conditions as buck teeth, which mar a person's appearance, is a major reason for orthodontic treatment. But there are also major health reasons for orthodontic care. If teeth, for example, come together improperly, efficient chewing of food is impossible. The digestive system is strained because chunks of improperly chewed food pass through it. Orthodontic treatment will, therefore, result in lifelong better health and appearance. For more information, see Ch. 22, The Teeth and Gums .

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