How Children Benefit Psychologically From Exercise
- Managing Stress
- Behavioral Disorders
- Stabilizing Mood
Exercise is important for children’s physical health, but physical fitness also contributes to healthy psychological growth in children. Research has shown a number of beneficial effects on children including the ones below.
A 1982 study found that 10 weeks of movement training for half an hour helped four-year-olds better manage stress and anxiety. Another study was done of girls who were 11 to 17 that found similar results. Studies also found that although competitive physical activities increased stress somewhat, that stress tended to be both mild and temporary and no different from other extracurricular activities children engaged in. Physical activity seems to help children manage stress in a similar way that it does for adults.
Physical activity seems to have similar effects on depression in children. There are several theories about why it reduces depression. One theory is that it directs attention away from stress while other theories are that exercise creates endorphins or serotonin that leads to a feeling of well-being. Whatever the cause, studies have shown that children who are more physically active are less likely to have symptoms of depression and experience more healthy psychological growth. A study that appeared in the journal Pediatrics found that children who were physically active at the ages of 6 and 8 were less likely to have depressive symptoms two years later. Healthy psychological growth in children and physical fitness appear to be
Obese children may suffer from self-esteem issues, and the physical fitness benefits of exercise may result in weight loss and a more positive self-image. However, physical activity appears to have effects on the self-esteem of children that is unrelated to physical appearance. Some studies found aerobic activities produced more beneficial results than other types of activity. These gains in self-esteem may be because of children gaining more confidence in their skills.
In another study that appeared in Pediatrics, the effects of an activity known as “cybercycling” on children made children less disruptive in class. The term refers to cycling while watching a virtual reality screen. This was important because many children who suffer from behavioral disorders also have difficulty engaging in physical activity. The presence of the screen kept them engaged enough to continue the physical activity. From the standpoint of developmental psychology, this suggests that it is worthwhile to try to identify a physical activity that holds children’s attention even if it involves the use of screens which are often considered less beneficial for children.
Studies also show that exercise can have the overall effect of stabilizing children’s moods. The physical fitness benefits that lead to healthy psychological growth in children appear to be maximized when the activity is independent of parental pressure or criticism. The cybercycling program also appeared to help children who were diagnosed with mood disorders. It is believed that exercise may lead to changes in the brain that create these more positive mental states.
Physical activity can be beneficial for children in other ways as well. It can improve motor skills and teach teamwork. It seems clear that physical fitness benefits healthy psychological growth in children and that parents and schools should allow time and space for this kind of activity.