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Help Girls Stay Active as Teens

The teen years often bring a sharp drop in physical activity, especially for girls. But girls who trade tennis for television or volleyball for video games could face a future of obesity, osteoporosis and poor health, experts say.

Research shows physical play plummets after age 9. Although 72 percent of adolescent boys played hoops, hockey or some other activity for 60 minutes a day, a recent survey found just 57 percent of girls were that active. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 says that children 2 and older should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day.

Inactive adolescents turn into inactive adults, says researcher Penny Gordon-Larsen, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina.

Building activity into girls' lives before adolescence can help stave off disease. Coupled with too many fries and sodas, a lack of exercise leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other ailments.

You can steer your daughter toward a healthier course. Change her focus to skating, running, softball, skateboarding -- anything that gets her away from the remote and the keyboard.

Exercise doesn't just burn calories, it also builds muscle and strong bones, says Thomas A. Lloyd, Ph.D., director of the Young Women's Health Study at Pennsylvania State University. Exercise also improves both lung efficiency and how the body uses oxygen.

Although calcium and vitamin D are important, Dr. Lloyd's research shows exercise is the key to healthier bones from about age 12 through 17. After that, the body no longer adds the bone strength that later fuels resistance to osteoporosis. (An adult can keep up maximum bone strength through regular exercise and weight training.)