We’ve all heard how regular exercise can benefit our children’s physical health. It strengthens their muscles and bones, prevents unhealthy weight gain, and reduces the risks of a long list of health problems. But beyond physical health, routine exercise can benefit your child’s mental health for years to come. In adolescents, just an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise a day is linked to lower levels of depression and stress, and higher levels of positive self-image and overall wellbeing. “Doing something physical releases cortisol which helps manage stress. Being physically active also gives the brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times,” says Jeffrey Richker, MD of Pediatrics with SCL Health Medical Group. Kids who exercise often are also more likely to show improvements in self-control, academic performance, behavior, and problem-solving skills.
Additionally, exercise releases these great little things call endorphins -feel good chemicals and natural happiness boosters. More exercise means more endorphins, and most importantly, happier kids. Which is all any parent ever wants (besides maybe like two more hours of uninterrupted sleep, but we’ll save that for another post). Here are some quick tips for helping your kids hit an hour of physical activity a day.
Practice What You Preach
Kids will be way more inspired to move if they see their parents moving too. Make exercise a family affair with daily post-dinner walks or backyard soccer competitions. Of course, you don’t always have to do the same type of exercise; simply modeling physical activity can be an important motivator. And be careful not to talk about exercise as an obligation or punishment around your kids. If they see you talk about physical activity as a stress reliever or fun activity, they’ll be more likely to adopt that attitude too.
Find What They Love
There are so many ways to get in those 60 mins. Do a little digging to find out what makes your kids excited and let them experiment with all sorts of games and equipment. After all, exercise should be fun. If your kids are competitive, implement a family challenge to see who can do the most miles in a week. If the kids are feeling more creative, try a mid-day dance off. And if you simply can’t get them away from those screens, there are plenty of fitness-focused games and videos on Nintendo, PlayStation and YouTube.
Get to Know the Neighborhood
Make their exercise routine less routine by trying out different community parks, rec centers, pools, and bike trails. Getting involved with local youth sports teams, dance troops, and hiking groups are great ways to make physical activity more exciting, as well as combat social anxiety and loneliness.
Don’t expect a family of Olympic athletes right away. Start slow with small achievable goals. If sixty minutes at once feels too ambitious, try smaller ten-minute sessions throughout the day, then increase time and intensity after a few weeks. And always remember that each child is different. While young kids are more naturally active, adolescents might need a bit more encouragement, so expect plenty of interest shifts.
At the end of the day, remember that any movement is good movement. Even light activity as kids is linked to better mental health as adults. So, lace up those shoes, grab that water bottle, and we’ll see you at the park.