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How exercise can benefit children’s mental health

Whilst exercise has many physical benefits for children, experts also say physical activity helps to improve a child’s mental health, giving them a better outlook on life by building confidence, managing anxiety and depression and increasing self-esteem and cognitive skills.

Whilst the effects of exercise may be temporary, simple activities can deliver several hours of relief, helping to quickly alleviate negative moods. Evidence suggests introducing exercise at a young age helps to decrease rates of anxiety and depression in children and adolescence. Physical activity has been proven to be effective in targeting the risk factors associated with mental illness by increasing heart health and assisting in regulating dietary urges.

Brain Function and Mental Wellbeing

Exercise plays a vital role in developing the brain and supporting essential mental functions in children. Helping to improve hand-eye coordination and other developmental motor skills, better thinking, problem-solving, stronger attention skills and improved learning all helps to better a child’s performance in school.

When we exercise at any age, ‘feel good’ chemicals (endorphins) are released by the brain helping to improve our mood, energy levels and improving our levels of sleep. Whilst physical exercise may be the last thing a child wants to do when they’re having a ‘down day’, any physical activity including playing outside with friends can help to greatly maintain their mental wellbeing.

Reducing Anxiety

Children who experience heightened levels of anxiety tend to create a viscous cycle for themselves by focusing heavily on the things that make them anxious. Physical movement helps an anxious child to break the cycle as exercise demands them to focus on an activity, in turn developing new skills.

Improved Self – Esteem

There are a range of different exercises to choose from, especially for children where classes and after school activities are readily available. Whether it’s dancing, football, trampolining, running, stretching or just playing with friends, when we find an activity we enjoy, we will want to continue to take part.

By seeing and appreciating how their body moves and what it can do rather than the way it looks, it is a great step in building a child’s self-worth and promoting a positive body image. This level of thinking is important to promote at an early age, helping children to appreciate their body for what it can do, rather than focusing on the way it looks.

Social Interaction

If a child or teen is feeling lonely or unable to make friends, shared physical activities can give them a sense of belonging and companionship,

A young person with social anxiety may find group environments difficult but having a sport to focus on may help to relieve that pressure. The act of sharing a common interest and working towards common goals can help to develop a child’s confidence in many different ways, including speaking up in school.

It’s important to show children that exercise is fun and not something we ‘ought to do’. One of the best ways to help our children be more active is to include them in habits we have ourselves as well as encouraging them to take part in after school activities. They may not stick to every activity, but by taking part in a range of different exercises, they are likely to find ones they like.