Sedentary lifestyles contribute to many health problems including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and even some types of cancer. Additionally, inactive kids are more prone to emotional difficulties than their more active peers. Exercising is an excellent way to improve not only physical health, but mental health, as well.
Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Studies show that regular exercise helps to alleviate stress, lessen anxiety, and improve mild to moderate depression. In some cases, vigorous activity is more effective than medication or therapy, making exercise a first course treatment in matters of emotional health. Parents should encourage their children to play actively and participate in organised sports, making fitness a family priority. Not only does exercise help kids and teens to deal effectively with stress, but it can enhance their confidence and self-esteem, important issues during childhood when a sense of self is being developed.
Families that Play Together…
There is a lot of truth to the old saying, “Families that play together, stay together.” Today’s families are busier than ever, with even children feeling the pressures associated with performance expectations and over-scheduling. Oftentimes, family members have so many commitments that family time is a rare pleasure, rather than an everyday part of life. Unfortunately, this disconnect can have a significant effect on children and teens, who may feel distanced from the very people who love them the most. Families that make time to play actively together benefit in a number of ways. Obviously, families who make exercise and fitness priorities are inclined to be physically healthier than those who do not, but the pay offs do not end there. Spending time together helps to build strong emotional ties and reassures children that they are high on their parents’ list of priorities, making them feel valued.
Emotions and Brain Chemistry
Emotions can be effected by brain chemistry, and exercise has a direct effect on brain chemistry. It stands to reason, then, that exercise (or the lack thereof) can alter emotions. All activity, from short bursts of intense exercise to moderate aerobic workouts can raise levels of “feel good” endorphins, as well as adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. These chemicals can elevate mood and offer kids who exercise a mental boost. Additionally, even moderate exercise can improve sleep quality, making kids feel more well-rested, energetic, and alert. Anxiety is becoming more commonplace amongst people of all ages, including kids and teens, but exercise is known to help relieve tension and lower anxiety levels or at least make anxious feelings more manageable. Certain types of workouts such as yoga and Pilates are especially useful for promoting relaxation and alleviating stress.
Self-Confidence and Body Image
In addition to offering relief from unpleasant emotions, regular exercise can help kids and teens to improve their self-image and boost confidence. Many kids today are plagued by body image issues, constantly comparing themselves to peers and even celebrities. Of course, when growing kids, who do not yet have the maturity to understand that the images they see on television, in movies, and on the covers of glossy magazines are not realistic or even honest portrayals of actual people, they often feel inadequate, nonetheless. Kids who participate in sports or other forms of exercise have the opportunity to develop strong, healthy bodies, making them less inclined to worry excessively about how they measure up to others.