Psychological Benefits of Exercise for Children

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

We know that exercise provides all kinds of physical benefits for kids. But did you know that exercise also offers many psychological benefits as well? Do five jumping jacks and then take a few minutes to read this lesson and learn more.

Why is Exercise so Important?

It has been instilled in our minds that we need to exercise at least 30 minutes a day. But what exactly does exercise mean? Exercise is defined as engagement in activity with the intention of improving health, the body, and the level of fitness.

Much emphasis is placed on exercise improving children's physical health, but studies show that exercise has helped cure or reduce the negative effects of children's mental disorders such as stress, depression, and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as well. Exercise improves self-esteem, academic performance, memory, and concentration. Engagement in sports and exercise also reduces behavioral issues and juvenile delinquency. How can children's mental health be so positively affected by something as simple as exercise?

In this lesson, we will review ways that exercise offers psychological benefits for children. Research has proven that exercise is a vital component of a healthy mind, better behavior, successful academic performance, and even contributes to healthier social relationships with peers.

Kids involved in team sports tend to have a higher self-esteem and self-worth.
Kids involved in team sports tend to have a higher self-esteem and self-worth.

Psychological Effects of Exercise for Children

Many of the reasons that exercise improves mental and cognitive health in adults rings true with children as well. But there is an added importance of exercise with children because they are prone to stress and depression due to social pressures, bullying, academic strains, and difficulties with parents or schools.

Here are some of the psychological benefits of exercise for children.

Decreases Depression and Stress

Exercise helps kids feel happy with a positive outlook on life. There are several explanations for this:

  • Exercise increases endorphins - When a child engages in physical activity, and exercise, the body's 'natural opiates' called endorphins are released. This will give children a natural 'high', a positive outlook on life, and a feeling of happiness a couple of hours after participating in an exercise.
  • Increases serotonin - An important neurotransmitter in the brain, serotonin is responsible for balancing mood and fighting depression. Exercise releases more serotonin into the brain, which can help kids fight feelings of depression or sadness.
  • Increases Vitamin D - Exercising outdoors with sun exposure is great for children as it increases their level of Vitamin D naturally. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey discovered that 70 percent of kids age 6 to 11 were not getting enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to feelings of depression or sadness.
  • Meditation - Exercise can be a form of meditation for children, in that it often pushes away any thoughts, anxieties, and worries from their mind.

Exercise outdoors is a great way for kids to increase healthy neurotransmitters and get a good dose of Vitamin D.
Kids racing

Increases Confidence and Self-Worth

Exercise can help kids feel more confident and secure in their abilities.

  • Team sports - Being a part of a team, getting positive encouragement from teammates, coaches, and parents can build a child's level of confidence.
  • Learning and excelling at new skills - When kids exercise, they are often learning and improving physical strength, agility, speed, balance, etc. Learning new skills will increase a child's sense of accomplishment and level of confidence.
  • Increase in perception of attractiveness- Regardless of actual physical attractiveness, exercise tends to make people feel attractive, strong, healthy, and fit. The perception of feeling attractive, healthy, and strong with children can increase their confidence and self-worth.

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