School’s out for most kids in San Diego, and you know what that means – more outdoor activities, like hiking, beach going, swimming! Outdoor exercise is such a wonderful way to spend time together. Not only does it bring us together, but it help us feel good about our health, bodies, and minds.
Yet, take a glance around any public space. You’ll notice children and teens with their heads down and thumbs drumming on a cell phone or tablet in rhythm. The Coalition for Healthy Children says that television, computer, and video games have replaced physical activities in children.
Psychology Today draws a parallel between the influx of televisions in American homes during the 1950’s and the increase in anxiety and depression in children over the last 50-70 years. Iowa State University professor of psychology, Douglas Gentile, performed research which showed that kids who were addicted to video games were more likely to have mental health issues including social phobia, depression, and anxiety. If idleness leads to anxiety and depression, will exercise counter the effects?
A study by Acta Paediactrica says yes! As part of the study, they equipped 70 children with pedometers. The results showed that children who clocked over 12,000 steps had significantly higher self-esteem than children who walked 9,200 steps. But why?
Anxiety is a form of stress, and the theory is that exercise stimulates the neurotransmitters in the brain which release hormones that elevate mood, improve attention and focus, and soothe emotions. These hormones also effectively improve sleep, boost self-esteem, improve cognition, and enhance social skills.
One of the hormones is dopamine, which is a hormone that is involved in the pleasure center of the brain and provides a reward of feeling good.
What Activities Can I Do With My Kids?
As children are being raised in the age of technology, parents face a continual challenge to make physical exercise as engaging and enticing as screen-based activities. It helps to refer to physical activity as something fun like activity hour or playtime.
The biggest impact parents can make is to lead by example. Take the family on a bike-riding or hiking outing. Make a habit of going to the beach or a pool for swimming. Take a yoga or dance class together or join a basketball or volleyball league.
The 2012 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health showed that the top health problem that plagues our children is lack of exercise. In addition to reducing anxiety and depression, regular exercise helps kids maintain a healthy weight. It also reduces problems associated with diabetes and blood pressure.
Now that school’s out get your kids out of the house and out into the beautiful coast of San Diego. You’ll thank yourself for your efforts to encourage their mental and physical health. And when they are older, they’ll remember the coping skill you showed them of getting their heart rate up to reduce stress.
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