Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.
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.
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.
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.
Increases Focus and Cognition
A major problem that elementary schools see today are children's inability to sit still and focus in order to learn in the classroom. A subsequent problem is that schools are focusing more on academics and less on physical activity by cutting out physical education, gym class, and decreasing time for recess. The irony is that increasing physical movement and activity in schools would actually increase academic achievement, cognition, memory, and ability to focus. This is because exercise:
- Increases dopamine - Low levels of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, have been seen in children with ADHD. Exercise helps release more dopamine into the brain helping kids with focus, learning and cognition.
- Increases size and function of the hippocampus - Studies of mice that exercise showed a hippocampus double the size compared to mice that didn't exercise. The hippocampus in the brain helps with concentration and reaction time. Studies of kids that exercise regularly versus those that do not show that these kids can answer questions faster and concentrate on tasks better without getting distracted.
- Increases new brain cells - Kids who exercise are forming new brain cells important for memory and learning.
Children who exercise or are involved in sports or physical activity have a lower incidence of behavioral problems. This may be due to:
- Involvement in prosocial activities like sports keeps them away from troublesome activities such as skipping school, drugs, unprotected sex, etc.
- Being surrounded by positive, happy, goal and academic-oriented children inspires a child towards the same attitudes and behaviors.
Exercise is defined as engagement in activity with the intention of improving health, the body, and level of fitness. Exercise boosts levels of endorphins in the brain, increasing the level of happiness and decreasing the stress level. Exercise is a form of meditation allowing children to forget troubles and worries. Exercise increases brain functioning and cell growth leading to improved cognition. Involvement in sports and exercise helps improve behavior.
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