How physical activity can support your child’s mental health

We know it’s good for our kids to be active. When we think about why, we usually focus on the strong muscles they’ll build, the chronic diseases they’ll ward off, and the countless other benefits to their growing bodies.  

While these are all solid reasons to encourage an active life, parents should take note that new research suggests that regular physical activity can benefit kids’ mental health as much as it does their physical health.

It’s now twice as important to think about how active our kids are. And, the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card continues to report that our kids aren’t getting enough physical activity—they received a distressing D+ grade for Overall Physical Activity. 


A hard-pumping heart wards off depression

Fluctuating emotions are healthy and normal for all of us. But, if kids spend too much time being inactive, they may experience preventable symptoms of depression. Researchers have found that the rush of feel-good brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) released when kids get active reduces depression and increases kids’ feelings of happiness!  

But, what if your kid hates gym class or don’t get excited about conventional team sports? They’re not alone. Fortunately, there are plenty of other options that deliver the same mood-boosting benefits. Sit with your child and brainstorm—skim the fitness guide from your local community centre, leaf through magazines or watch some inspiring videos online demonstrating different activities. Perhaps they’ve never considered mountain biking, yoga, parkour, circus skills or break-dancing. Maybe exploring the ‘great outdoors’ is just what they need. Let them explore and find an activity they can really get excited about. 

Staying active strengthens their self esteem

When kids find a physical activity they love, they’re more likely to do it often, which experts have found leads to higher self-esteem. Committing to a challenge and taking pride in landing that jump, balancing that posture, scoring that goal, or turning that pirouette can help your child to see themselves as capable, unique and strong. 

Research suggests that when your child discovers these feelings of self-worth, they’ll likely display better moods and will feel more fulfilled with their life. We’re pretty sure every parent can get behind that.

Moving with friends and fresh air combats anxiety

Researchers have found that getting active also decreases feelings of anxiety in kids—especially in a group situations. Similarly, getting outside for a simple walk or to shoot hoops also appears to intensify the anxiety-fighting power of movement. These changes in the environment and engagement with peers helps to distract from the emotional burdens that can weigh them down, at least in the short-term.

More than muscles—physical activity strengthens kids ability to rebound emotionally 

There’s no way to avoid these situations that test our emotions, but because 
mental trauma can have a lasting impact on kids’ developing brains, it’s especially important to provide resources to help lessen the blow for them. 

Scientists are finding that physical activity can act like an emotional armour that protects kids from obsessing over stressful events. 

So, they bounce back faster from that cruel comment on their social media profile or difficulty in the classroom. 

There’s no doubt about it: mental health is complex. Techniques and tools to support and develop positive mental health and wellness in our kids vary case-by-case. But the science is clearly telling us that there is one near-universal way that can help—we need to get them moving

Our kids may not fully make the connection right now—that physical activity can help to manage their emotions and reduce over-thinking—but down the road they just might thank you for encouraging them to discover this invaluable and lifelong tool for maintaining their mental wellness.

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Check out the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card for more info on how more physical activity can support your child’s mental health.