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Carola Pickenhan - Independent Lifeplus Associate


Benefits of exercise for children’s mental health

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How can positive mental health in children be enhanced by exercise?

Mental health issues can affect people of all ages. And children, while often more carefree than adults, are also not immune. The health benefits of physical exercise extend beyond the physical and into the mental. With a proven link established between exercise and a healthy mental state particularly in children and adolescents between the ages of 6-18.1 Never has this been more important than now, when we are living in unprecedented times of change and upheaval.

How can exercise help children maintain a healthy mental state?


Exercise helps reset and redirect negative feelings

Stress and anger can affect all of us, including children, and physical activity can help to off-load these feelings of self-doubt. Physical exercise is a great way to reset the body, and the brain, and recreate feelings of calm. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise this is, as long as it gets us huffing and puffing. Running, cycling, swimming or even just kicking about a football can help children burn off excess energy and unwanted feelings too.

Exercise helps develop social skills and encourages friend-making

Team sports can be a great avenue for meeting people.  They can help children to playing cooperatively with their teammates, encouraging them to learn and practice good social skills both during and after play. Most sports will teach them skills like sharing, taking turns to speak, negotiating and problem-solving – without even realizing it! And all this while making friends at the same time!

Exercise encourages learning and development

Taking breaks to exercise has been shown to help reduce overall fatigue in studies.2 Any form of movement will increase a child’s energy levels and alertness – useful skills when it comes time to sitting down and concentrating, as often required at school!

Exercise helps with building self-esteem

We are all different. Some of us are better academically. Some of us are better physically. When children, who may be not as strong academically, get the chance to show their skills physically it can be an opportunity to shine and build confidence.

Exercise can improve a child’s mood

Exercise has been proven in studies to encourage your brain to release endorphins – the chemical that makes you feel good.3 This is one of the best reasons to encourage children to get moving – according to science it will make them happier!

There are so many psychological health benefits of physical exercise. These don’t just apply to children, but to adults too. So, when you are encouraging your children to move more, it’s worth remembering this and consider how you can move with them too. Any movement is better than none. If you’re not used to exercising, start with short bursts of activity rather than insisting on an hour-long workout. Try to find something you enjoy. Walking, dancing or a quick game of badminton in the garden are all great ways to burn some calories. And you’ll be doing something positive for your children’s mental health, as well as your own.

  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-019-01099-5 []
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6585675/ []
  3. https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-198401020-00004 []