A Head Start on a Lifetime of Wellbeing—Questions from Fit Teens Answered by Uta Pippig

By Uta Pippig
© Mary Fiske—South Boston Neighborhood House
© Mary Fiske—South Boston Neighborhood House

Getting started on a healthy lifestyle when you are young can help you feel good today and for many years to come. It can contribute to your happiness and confidence. And it can support your efforts to perform better in school, do well athletically, have much more fun, and enjoy the activities you like.

To better understand some of the situations many young people face when trying to live a more healthful life, we asked a group of teens and college students to share some of their concerns with us.

Here are a few of the questions they had. I thought about you and these questions for a long time. Sure, I can’t put myself into your shoes, but I tried to understand the special challenges you might face as a teenager. Of course, I received much guidance from many young people with whom I spoke during my many visits to high schools and while attending youth running events.

Sometimes I supplemented my answers with a few examples and memories from my childhood when the pressure of being a student, an athlete, and a daughter of driven parents would feel quite challenging at times. So I hope to give you best feedback possible.

What is the most important message you can give us, young adults, who want to improve our fitness and eating habits?

My most important message would be simply—congratulations! You have a head start since you have already made the decision to make some changes. Believe that change is possible!

What is important to remember is, if you are not happy about the way you look and feel, you have the power to do something about it. Have the confidence in yourself to understand you already have the energy, strength, and willpower you need to start a fitness routine and develop better eating habits—even if this might not be obvious to you right now.

Once you become aware of your natural abilities, you can take your time and learn how to use them to achieve your goals.

How can people our age get started on the right path?

Your first step will be to find helpful tools and then learn how to implement them into your daily routine.

You can begin to make positive changes if you just put your mind to it. Imagine how you would like to be and what you would like to change. Then try to set small goals you can reach. By setting and then achieving small realistic goals, you will experience the satisfaction of progress without getting discouraged.

It is a good idea to start out by learning from someone you respect and who inspires you. But just be careful not to totally imitate that person. It can hinder you in your ability to discover how to best develop your own unique talents. Stay open to new ideas, seek and listen to some good advice, and do not be afraid to ask for guidance.

Getting started on the right path can be challenging because there are so many influences with which you have to deal. These influences might include your family, your friends, your school, and the media. Sometimes these influences are positive and helpful. Other times they are negative and get in your way. And some can be subtle and deceptive, such as all those seemingly “perfect” Hollywood images we are confronted with in magazines, on television, and via the Internet.

Do you ever compare yourself with other fit women?

Sometimes, yes, but I don’t simply compare our bodies. “Compare” isn’t even the right word for what I am trying to say. I try to see the whole person and I am most impressed by people who inspire me with their unique abilities—whether it is focus and “drive,” charitableness, or charisma.

I believe that “comparing”—in terms of copying an entire persona or something physical—is pointless. If you always just imitate others, you will never develop your own unique personality.

Of course, if you are inspired by some attribute another person has, there is nothing wrong with seeing how it feels to “wear” it—but do this in your own way. We all truly are unique. To look and feel our own individual best, at any time or at any age, is far healthier than to try to be someone we are not.

How can I be happier with my body and not so influenced by others?

© Betty Shepherd
© Betty Shepherd

If you are not happy with something about yourself, you have the power to make a change for the better! When you live your dreams rather than someone else’s, you can learn to be happy with your body and mind.

Give yourself a chance to love the way you look and feel. Most likely, you will come to the point where you accept and appreciate yourself. In fact, the changes you decide to make for yourself, rather than for others, could last your entire life.

This is all about your own life, your own happiness—not that of others. So, why not “take the magic step” and do what you know you need to do?

Changes, especially when you are young and energized, can happen very quickly if you become determined and take action. You may surprise yourself by positively influencing those who made comments that kept you from being happy with your body in the first place.

Take some time to think about your strengths, the positive aspects of your personality, and who you really are. Good looks can be beneficial, but more importantly so can a kind heart, a beautiful mind, and a winning smile.

Feeling unappreciated, having people laugh about you, or being ignored are experiences all of us have at some time; sometimes they can be painful. But, in fact, you might be a good artist or athlete, a skilled tinkerer or fun story teller, a great friend or hard worker, or many other positive things. Rest assured, your real friends care more about who you are than what you look like. And you will find you can count on them—they will be there for you when you need them.

Many of us young girls and women want to have perfect bodies. To achieve this through exercise, however, takes a lot of effort. Is there a way to make it easier to exercise?

Absolutely! The easiest way to exercise is to make it enjoyable. Just give it a try! Most people feel so good when they start exercising; they wonder how they ever could have lived without it.

Initially, however, it might require some effort on your part. The key is to find activities you like so you can begin to see regular exercise as play and as something enjoyable, rather than as an obligation you wish you could get out of. All you need to do is choose the activities you like best, and then make regular exercise an adventure that is fun and rewarding. You may surprise yourself and find yourself looking forward to your chosen activity.

Here are five tips:

  1. Check out the sports programs and classes that are offered in your school or near your home. The structured time and place of a program or class can help you get into a routine.
  2. Invite a friend to join you! Starting a new fitness routine together makes exercising much easier and a lot more fun. You will find it is harder to skip a workout when someone is waiting for you.
  3. Set small goals for yourself that can be achieved in a short time. This will show you how successful you are being—helping motivate you to do more.
  4. By starting slowly in the beginning, and not overdoing it along the way, your success is almost guaranteed. This will allow you to enjoy being active, and it will help you avoid getting “burned out.”
  5. Take time to celebrate after reaching each small goal and then set another one. Maybe treat yourself to something nice!

Do we necessarily have to exercise in order to get in shape? Can’t we get all the benefits just with the right diet?

You can get in better shape with the right diet. However, when you add exercise to good nutritional habits, you will get much better muscle tone, strengthen your immune system, be less tired, and concentrate better in school and at work. You even will build up reserves to help you better withstand stress.

By exercising, you will have the double benefit of increasing your energy reserves while your body works more efficiently. This means you will have more stamina and endurance.

So, if you would like to have an attractive and fit body, eating healthily and exercising is the only way to go. And positive change happens more rapidly when you combine both.

Just remember that change is easier when it is gradual, and the best way to succeed is to start out slowly.

How do I stay fit without having to exercise daily?

Exercising regularly is best, but that doesn’t mean you have to work out every single day no matter what. Having a day off when you are tired, sore or recovering from the previous day’s exercise isn’t a problem, especially if you have good nutritional habits. In fact, “rest days” are helpful so you can be ready to do even more the next day. Just remember they should be used strategically (and not all the time!).

Why would you want to stop exercising when you can feel it is helping you? It shouldn’t be an obstacle to exercise for 30 minutes a day, especially when it makes you feel great afterwards.

Again, the best tool for sticking to a good fitness routine is achieving small and easy-to-reach goals that you keep setting for yourself. Having those goals in activities you enjoy will help you to stay on your unique path to better fitness. Make it fun.

There are exceptions during times when you feel overly fatigued or sick. On these days, share your feelings right away with your parents, your teacher or your physician, and decide together what is best for you to do.

Once I am fit, it seems easy to start worrying I will gain weight again, and I sometimes start thinking before and during each meal about what and how much I am eating. This not only is annoying, but it also takes away the fun of eating. How can I avoid thinking like this?

If you have changed your fitness routine and eating habits and are now happy with yourself, there is no reason to be worried about gaining back the weight you may have lost. For many people, getting fit does not always mean losing weight. It may mean reducing fat cells and building muscle cells, and, in some instances, there will be no weight loss.

Most importantly, you have taken the magic step to change your life—and your happiness and feeling of wellbeing are now powerful forces within you.

The key is you found your own path to achieve your fitness goals. Your body and fitness levels reflect how you are taking care of yourself, and you are feeling the rewards physically, mentally, and emotionally. That is a fantastic accomplishment. You showed tremendous strength on your way to achieving your new fitness levels.

And believe me when I say you will not want to lose this feeling of wellbeing. Of course, if you stop your good exercise habits and you eat unhealthy food, you will lose some of your fitness and likely will gain weight. But certainly you can have some treats once in a while—that is not a problem and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

The good news is, if you focus on eating well and exercising regularly, you won’t have to constantly be worried about “getting in shape” or “losing weight,” because they both will become a natural part of your life.

This is why, at the beginning of making your own plan to get fit, it is important to think about what you like to eat and why—and whether it is really healthy for you. If this awareness becomes a part of your new lifestyle, you won’t have to worry about what to eat—it will come to you naturally. Eating always should be fun!

How important is eating regularly during the day?

To stay energized and fit, eating regularly is a necessity. It will put less stress on your body and digestive system since you won’t be making them work so hard to digest large amounts of food at once. Eating small amounts every two to three hours will keep your metabolism high, which helps to maintain a good weight. It will also provide a constant energy supply throughout the day.

Many young people skip breakfast, which is a big mistake. Eating a good breakfast will help you perform better at school and in sports, and your concentration will improve. It also is a habit that prevents calories from being stored as fat and enables your body to burn more calories throughout the day.

Studies have shown that people who enjoy a nutritious breakfast eat less over the course of a day, have more energy throughout the day, and are often slimmer than those who skip it. For some tasty ideas, see our article “Kick Start Your Day.”

How can I make all these changes by myself?

Please, do not feel alone in your quest for better fitness and health. There are many ways you may be able to get help in reaching your goals. Your parents, friends, and teachers as well as organizations like our own Take The Magic Step® can provide great sources of inspiration, information, and support. Take advantage of all of these.

There also are many sport activities in your community, different recreational leagues you can join, and sport events in which you can participate.

Try to let other people, maybe one or more friends or your family members, know about your goals. You may discover they are anxious to support you or maybe even workout with you.

You can do this when you believe in yourself and understand you really do have lots of energy and strength available to you. Sometimes it is hidden and you need to discover it. The key is simply starting with small changes and adding more changes slowly, one small step at a time.

To make getting and staying fit even more fun and to keep motivated, reward yourself after each achievement. Over time, you will be happier and more confident, you will want fitness to be a part of your life—and eventually it will become a habit.

I hope some of my suggestions can help you get off to a good start.

If you would like to read about some of the many benefits of exercise, please click here. And if you want to read about how I started running, you may want to check out the following article “Lasting Lessons, Chasing Dreams, and Fond Memories.”

If you follow your dreams and instincts, and believe that change is possible, you will see it come to you quickly.

Above all, keep it fun. You can do it! And we are with you, ready to support you in any way we can.

Updated January 24, 2016
Updated July 27, 2012
Posted 2008