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Healthy Lifestyle Guidelines for Youth Goal Setting

The following evidence-informed health behavior recommendations and resources were selected to help substance use prevention and health providers, parents and youth identify specific goals for improving their lifestyles and wellness. 

Healthy lifestyle recommendations were selected from science-based sources and target the following health areas including:

  1. Physical Activity & Sports
  2. Healthy Breakfast & Nutrition
  3. Getting Adequate Sleep
  4. Controlling Stress
  5. Avoiding Alcohol and Drug Use
  6. Limiting Screen Time
  7. Healthy Behavior Goal Setting

    The following health behavior recommendations are for youth, including children and adolescents.  

    Each lifestyle behavior individually, but especially taken together, provide young people, prevention and health specialists and parents with research-based guidelines for helping youth set and monitor goals for enhancing their physical and mental well-being, success and happiness.

    1. Physical Activity & Sports

    Children and adolescents ages 6-17 years should have 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity daily.

    1. Aerobic: Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- (makes your heart beat faster) or vigorous-intensity (makes you breath fast and heart pound) aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week.
    2. Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening (like climbing or push ups) physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.
    3. Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening (like jumping or running) physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.

    It is important to encourage young people to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable, and that offer variety.

    Source: CDC Youth Physical Activity Guidelines Toolkit: 

    CDC Physical Activity, How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?:

    Physical Activity Guidelines for Children and Young People:

     Physical Activity in Children and Adolescents:


    2. Healthy Breakfast & Nutrition

    What is healthy eating?

    Eating healthy is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and is something that should be taught at a young age. The following are some general guidelines for helping your adolescent eat healthy. It is important to discuss your adolescent's diet with his or her health care provider before making any dietary changes or placing your adolescent on a diet. Discuss the following healthy eating recommendations with your adolescent to ensure he or she is following a healthy eating plan:

    • Eat 3 meals a day, with healthy snacks.
    • Increase fiber in the diet and decrease the use of salt.
    • Drink water. Try to avoid drinks that are high in sugar. Fruit juice can have a lot of calories, so limit your adolescent's intake. Whole fruit is always a better choice. 
    • Eat balanced meals.
    • When cooking for your adolescent, try to bake or broil instead of fry.
    • Make sure your adolescent watches (and decreases, if necessary) his or her sugar intake.
    • Eat fruit or vegetables for a snack.
    • Decrease the use of butter and heavy gravies.
    • Eat more chicken and fish. Limit red meat intake, and choose lean cuts when possible.  

    Making Healthy Food Choices.

    The MyPlate icon is a guideline to help you and your adolescent eat a healthy diet. MyPlate can help you and your adolescent eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat.

    The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the following food plate to guide parents in selecting foods for children age 2 and older.

    The MyPlate icon is divided into 5 food group categories, emphasizing the nutritional intake of the following:

    • Foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain are grain products. Examples include whole wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal.
    • Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), and starchy vegetables.
    • Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut up, or pureed.
    • Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Focus on fat-free or low-fat products, as well as those that are high in calcium.
    • Go lean on protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine—choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans. 

    Oils are not a food group, yet some, such as nut oils, contain essential nutrients and can be included in the diet. Others, such as animal fats, are solid and should be avoided.

    MyPlate is a reminder to find your healthy eating style and build it throughout your lifetime. Everything you eat and drink matters. The right mix can help you be healthier now and in the future. This means:

    • Focus on variety, amount, and nutrition.
    • Choose foods and beverages with less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.
    • Start with small changes to build healthier eating styles.
    • Support healthy eating for everyone.

    Eating healthy is a journey shaped by many factors, including our stage of life, situations, preferences, access to food, culture, traditions, and the personal decisions we make over time. All your food and beverage choices count. MyPlate offers ideas and tips to help you create a healthier eating style that meets your individual needs and improves your health. 

    Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine: Healthy Eating During Adolescence:,P01610

    Healthy Eating & Physical Activity (HEPA) Standards:

    Take Charge of Your Health: A Guide for Teenagers:


    3. Getting Adequate Sleep

    Sleep is food for the brain. During sleep, important body functions and brain activity occur. Skipping sleep can be harmful — even deadly, particularly if you are behind the wheel. You can look bad, you may feel moody, and you perform poorly. Sleepiness can make it hard to get along with your family and friends and hurt your scores on school exams, on the court or on the field. Remember: A brain that is hungry for sleep will get it, even when you don’t expect it. For example, drowsiness and falling asleep at the wheel cause more than 100,000 car crashes every year. When you do not get enough sleep, you are more likely to have an accident, injury and/or illness.


    • Sleep is vital to your well-being, as important as the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat. It can even help you to eat better and manage the stress of being a teen.
    • Biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence -- meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm.
    • Teens need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to function best. Most teens do not get enough sleep — one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights.
    • Teens tend to have irregular sleep patterns across the week — they typically stay up late and sleep in late on the weekends, which can affect their biological clocks and hurt the quality of their sleep.
    • Many teens suffer from treatable sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, insomnia, restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea.


    • Make sleep a priority. Review Teen Time in this toolkit and keep a sleep diary. Decide what you need to change to get enough sleep to stay healthy, happy, and smart!
    • Naps can help pick you up and make you work more efficiently, if you plan them right. Naps that are too long or too close to bedtime can interfere with your regular sleep.
    • Make your room a sleep haven. Keep it cool, quiet and dark. If you need to, get eyeshades or blackout curtains. Let in bright light in the morning to signal your body to wake up.
    • No pills, vitamins or drinks can replace good sleep. Consuming caffeine close to bedtime can hurt your sleep, so avoid coffee, tea, soda/pop and chocolate late in the day so you can get to sleep at night. Nicotine and alcohol will also interfere with your sleep.
    • When you are sleep deprived, you are as impaired as driving with a blood alcohol content of .08%, which is illegal for drivers in many states. Drowsy driving causes over 100,000 crashes each year. Recognize sleep deprivation and call someone else for a ride. Only sleep can save you!
    • Establish a bed and wake-time and stick to it, coming as close as you can on the weekends. A consistent sleep schedule will help you feel less tired since it allows your body to get in sync with its natural patterns. You will find that it’s easier to fall asleep at bedtime with this type of routine.
    • Don’t eat, drink, or exercise within a few hours of your bedtime. Don’t leave your homework for the last minute. Try to avoid the TV, computer and telephone in the hour before you go to bed. Stick to quiet, calm activities, and you’ll fall asleep much more easily!
    • If you do the same things every night before you go to sleep, you teach your body the signals that it’s time for bed. Try taking a bath or shower (this will leave you extra time in the morning), or reading a book.
    • Try keeping a diary or to-do list. If you jot notes down before you go to sleep, you’ll be less likely to stay awake worrying or stressing.
    • When you hear your friends talking about their all-nighters, tell them how good you feel after getting enough sleep.
    • Most teens experience changes in their sleep schedules. Their internal body clocks can cause them to fall asleep and wake up later. You can’t change this, but you can participate in interactive activities and classes to help counteract your sleepiness. Make sure your activities at night are calming to counteract your already heightened alertness. 

    Source: The National Sleep Foundation, Teens and Sleep: 


     4. Controlling Stress

    Part 1: Tackling the Problem 

    Point 1: Identify and Then Address the Problem.

    First decide if a problem is a real tiger or just feels like one. If it can't hurt you, chances are that it can be better handled with clear thinking. This means turning off those thoughts that make you interpret the situation as a disaster.

    Three ideas can help you manage a lot of work.

    • Break the work into small pieces. Then do one small piece at a time, rather than look at the whole huge mess. As you finish each piece, the work becomes less overwhelming.
    • Make lists of what you need to do. This will help you sleep because your head won't spin with worry about whether you can do everything. At the end of the day, you'll have less to worry about as you check off the things you have finished. You will look at the same huge amount of work and realize you can handle it.
    • Timelines can help with big projects. 

    Point 2: Avoid Stress When Possible.

    Sometimes we know exactly when we are headed for trouble. Avoiding trouble from a distance is easier than dealing with it up close. You know the people who might be a bad influence on you, the places where you're likely to get in trouble, and the things that upset you. Choose not to be around those people, places, and things that mess you up. 

    Point 3: Let Some Things Go.

    It's important to try to fix problems, but sometimes there is nothing you can do to change a problem. For example, you can't change the weather, so don't waste your energy worrying about it. You can't change the fact that teachers give tests, so just study instead of complaining about how unfair they are. You can't change the fact that your parents need to know where you go, so prove that you're responsible and deserve more freedoms. People who waste their energy worrying about things they can't change don't have enough energy left over to fix the things they can. Also learn when not to take things personally. You feel badly for no reason when you take something personally that really has little to do with you. 

    Part 2: Taking Care of My Body 

    Point 4: The Power of Exercise.

    Exercise is the most important part of a plan to manage stress. When you are stressed, your body is saying, "Run!" So do it. Exercise every day to control stress and build a strong, healthy body. You may think you don't have time to exercise when you are most stressed, but that is exactly when you need it the most. If you are stressed about an assignment but too nervous to sit down and study—exercise! You will be able to think better after you have used up those stress hormones. Some people exercise before school so they can focus and learn better. 

    Point 5: Active Relaxation.

    You can flip the switch from being stressed to relaxed if you know how to fool your body. Because your body can only use the relaxed or emergency nervous system at any one time, you can turn on the relaxed system. You do this by doing the opposite of what your body does when it is stressed. Here are 2 ideas.

    1. Breathe deeply and slowly. Try the 4–8 breathing technique. Lie on your back and place your hands on your belly with your fingers loose. Deep breaths first fill the belly, then the chest, then the mouth; the breath expands the belly and your hands pull gently apart. Take a full breath while counting to 4. Then hold that breath for about twice as long, or an 8 count. Slowly let it out to the count of 8, or even longer if you can. This will relax your body after a few breaths, but just as importantly, it requires your full concentration. Your mind is too focused on breathing to focus on worries. Do this 10 times and you will feel much more relaxed. Yoga, martial arts, and meditation also teach great breathing skills. When you get good at this, you can even do this in a chair during a test and nobody will know. 
    1. Put your body in a relaxed position.
    • Your body knows when you're nervous. If you sit down to take a test and your legs are shaking, you are saying, "I want to run!" Remember, you can't concentrate and run at the same time, so you are making it harder to take the test. Instead, take those deep breaths, lean back, and tell your body there is no emergency.
    • When you're angry, the natural thing to do is stand up and face someone shoulder-to-shoulder and chest-to-chest. You do this without even thinking, but this subconsciously tells the other person that you're angry and ready to fight. It also may prevent you from thinking clearly. Do the opposite of what you would do if you were really going to fight—sit down, take deep slow breaths, and tell your body there is no danger. Then use your brain to get out of the situation. 

    Point 6: Eat Well.

    Everyone knows good nutrition makes you healthier. Only some people realize that it also keeps you alert through the day and your mood steady. People who eat mostly junk food have highs and lows in their energy level, which harms their ability to reduce stress. Instead of eating greasy or sugary foods, eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—they keep you focused for a longer time. Go to to learn more. 

    Point 7: Sleep Well.

    Most kids don't get the sleep they need to grow and think clearly. Tired people can't learn as well and can be impatient and irritable. Here are some ideas to improve your sleep.

    • Go to sleep about the same time every night.
    • Exercise 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. Your body falls asleep most easily when it has cooled down. If you exercise right before bed, you will be overheated and won't sleep well. A hot shower 1 hour before bedtime also helps your body relax to fall asleep.
    • Use your bed only to sleep. Don't solve your problems in bed. When you think about all the things that bother you, you have trouble falling asleep and wake up in the middle of the night to worry more. Instead, have another spot to think, like a worry chair. Give yourself plenty of time to think things through, make a list if you need to, and then set it aside! Go to bed to sleep.
    • Don't do homework, watch television, read, or use the phone while in bed. 

    Part 3: Dealing with Emotions

    Point 8: Take Instant Vacations.

    Sometimes the best way to de-stress is to take your mind away to a more relaxing place.

    • Have a favorite place where you can imagine yourself relaxing. The place should be beautiful and calm. When you're stressed, sit down, lean back, take deep breaths, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in your calm place.
    • Take time out for yourself. Everyone deserves time for themselves—a bath or something that allows time to think and de-stress. Try a warm bath with your ears just underwater. Listen to yourself take deep, slow breaths. Take your pulse and count as your heart rate goes down.
    • Enjoy hobbies or creative art as an instant vacation.
    • Look at the beauty around you and get pleasure from the small things you may have stopped noticing.
    • Take mini-vacations. Sometimes we forget that the park around the corner is a great place to hang out. A walk outside can be a mini-vacation if you choose to forget your worries.
    • Reading a good book is an escape from reality. You have to imagine the sights, sounds, and smells—you are somewhere else for a while. 

    Point 9: Release Emotional Tension.

    Sometimes feelings become so overwhelming that we cram them all away in an imaginary box and think we'll deal with them later. But later, there's so much stuff in the box that there is too much to deal with. This can make your head feel as if it is spinning. Sometimes you get angry or frustrated without even knowing why. You just know there is too much stuff going on in your head. It's good to pick just one problem to work on and forget the rest for the moment. When we decide to deal with only one problem at a time, it's much less scary to open the box.

    Here are some ideas to release your thoughts or worries one at a time.

    • People who have a way to express themselves don't need to hold it inside. Creative outlets like art, music, poetry, singing, dance, and rap are powerful ways to let your feelings out.
    • Every young person deserves a responsible adult to talk to and some friends to trust. Hopefully, you can talk to your parents. If you do not want to tell your parents everything, make sure to find an adult who'll listen and whom you can ask for advice.
    • Write it out!
    • Many young people find prayer or meditation helpful.
    • Laughing or crying. Give yourself permission to feel your emotions fully.

    Part 4: Making the World Better

    Point 10: Contribute to the World.

    Young people who work to make the world better have a sense of purpose, feel good about themselves, and handle their own problems better. It's important to understand that you really can make a difference in other people's lives. The role of teenagers is to recognize the mistakes adults have made and build a better world.

    Source:, For Teens: Creating Your Personal Stress-Management Plan:

    Additional Source: CDC, Coping with Stress:


      5. Avoiding Alcohol and Drug Use

    • Alcohol (and drug) consumption is associated with a variety of short- and long-term health risks, including motor vehicle crashes, violence, sexual risk behaviors, high blood pressure, and various cancers (e.g., breast cancer).
    • People younger than age 21 should not drink (or use drugs) at all.
    • Others who should not drink any alcohol (or use drugs) include: 
    1. Women who are or may be pregnant.
    2. People who have certain medical conditions or are taking certain medications that can interact with alcohol.
    3. Recovering alcoholics or people unable to control the amount they drink.
    4. People who are doing things that require skill, coordination, and alertness, such as driving a car.

    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol:


     6. Limiting Screen Time

    Children and adolescents spend a lot of time watching screens, including smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, TVs, and computers. On average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours. While screens can entertain, teach, and keep children occupied, too much use may lead to problems.

    Parents may not always know what their children are viewing, or how much time they are spending with screens. Children may be exposed to:

    • Violence and risk-taking behaviors
    • Videos of stunts or challenges that may inspire unsafe behavior
    • Sexual content
    • Negative stereotypes
    • Substance use
    • Cyberbullies and predators
    • Advertising aimed at your child
    • Misleading or inaccurate information

    Too much screen time may lead to:

    • Sleep problems
    • Lower grades in school
    • Reading fewer books
    • Less time with family and friends
    • Not enough outdoor or physical activity
    • Weight problems
    • Mood problems
    • Poor self-image and body image issues
    • Fear of missing out
    • Less time learning other ways to relax and have fun

    Managing a child’s screen time is challenging for families. Your child is never too young for a screen-time plan. Consider the following as a guideline:

    • Until 18 months of age limit screen use to video chatting along with an adult (for example, with a parent who is out of town).
    • Between 18 and 24 months screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
    • For children 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days.
    • For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.
    • Turn off all screens during family meals and outings.
    • Learn about and use parental controls.
    • Avoid using screens as pacifiers, babysitters, or to stop tantrums.
    • Turn off screens and remove them from bedrooms 30-60 minutes before bedtime.

    Source: American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Screen Time and Children:

     American Academy of Pediatrics, Media and Children:


     7. Healthy Behavior Goal Setting

    National Health Education Standards include a goal for all students to be able to demonstrate effective goal-setting skills to enhance their health.  

    Goal setting is an essential life skill critical for helping students establish, manage, and maintain healthy and safe behaviors and becoming a health literate individual.

    Setting and achieving short-term and long-term health goals can have positive health benefits and contribute to other life outcomes. 

    Prevention Plus Wellness (PPW) recommends setting multiple behavior health goals to enhance mental and physical wellbeing, performance, and happiness.

    Wholistic goal setting should include avoiding alcohol and drug use but also target increasing at least one healthy habit.

    These goals should initially be short-term and be desirable, measurable, and achievable.

    In addition, effect goal setting should include having someone co-sign the goals and a tool such as a calendar log to track daily goal success.

     Source: National Consensus for School Health Education:

    Prevention Plus Wellness (PPW) Online Goal Plan:

    For more information: