Exercise For A Healthy Mind!

We all know that physical exercise makes you brawny; but, did you know that it can also help keep you brainy? It's vital for your child’s physical and mental well-being too. We tell you how.

By Team ParentCircle  • 8 min read

Exercise For A Healthy Mind!

Picture this, you’ve just come back from work, tired and stressed (and maybe, angry). And then, you plug in your earphones and head for a good workout session. You come back and feel ‘at home’. You are relaxed and your mood is also a lot better. Have you ever noticed that you’re almost always in good spirits after a satisfying workout? Well, here’s the science behind the sentiment. Physical activity has a positive impact on not just your physical well-being, but your mental health too.

Where physical and mental health meet

The World Health Organization defines physical activity as, ‘any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that require energy expenditure.’ Physical exercise, on the other hand, is a sub-branch of physical activity as it is more structured, planned and repetitive. Both, however, work towards the betterment of your mental health. According to a study conducted by the Department of Exercise Science, the University of Georgia (published by BrainHQ), exercising for even 20 minutes a day can facilitate information processing and memory functions of the brain. The report adds that exercise increases the heart rate, thereby increasing the rate of oxygen pumped to the brain, releasing a variety of hormones that help in the growth of brain cells. 

In the case of children, exercise becomes quite vital for their complete well-being. Nithya Poornima, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, says, “Physical exercise helps with the overall development of children, not just their physical health. It helps with their cognitive ability, improves attention and concentration. It also aids in their emotional development, as physical exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones.” 

Many parents too vouch for the benefits of physical exercise on their child’s mental health. Anulekha Naveen, a running and cycling enthusiast, says “Physical exercise has definitely benefitted me and my two children, who love running and swimming. Waking up early in the morning, breathing in fresh air, doing warm-ups and running, gives a fresh start to the day and also helps beat the blues and laziness away.” 

Physical exercise positively impacts mental health in various ways. Here’s a look at some of them:

Reduces stress

One of the most natural benefits of physical exercise is the reduction of stress. When you exercise, the cortisol (a hormone linked to stress) levels in the body are significantly reduced. This was revealed in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM). The study was conducted among 258 eight-year-old children in Helsinki, Finland.

Fights depression 

An article titled, ‘Understanding Depression,’ published in a special health report from Harvard Medical School, mentions that a review of several studies since 1981 indicates that regular exercise can help improve the mood in people with mild to moderate depression.
Says Dr Chinmaya K S, paediatrician and fitness enthusiast, “Physical exercise can elevate a child’s mood, leading him to be happier and more confident.” Exercising for even 20 minutes a day can facilitate information processing and memory functions of the brain.

Helps focus and improves concentration 

Exercise helps children focus better, which in turn helps them perform well in their subjects. “There are studies to show that children who are physically active have better grades, especially in Maths,” says Dr Chinmaya.

Tackles Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 

There are several studies that show that physical exercise can help children with ADHD. In the article titled, ‘Mental Health Benefits of Exercise in Children,’ published in Psychiatric Times (originally published in the Journal of Paediatrics), Dr Karen Dineen Wagner talks about a study which suggests that a single spell of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can be used as a treatment for children with ADHD. The study also states that short bouts of regular exercise can help children, in general.

How parents can encourage children 

Renowned American author, Robert Fulghum, once said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” Your children tend to pick up on your behaviour; so, the best way to try and get them to exercise is to practise it yourself. 

Dr Chinmaya asserts, “We need to practise what we preach. We have to work out too and be an inspiration for our children. Seeds sown during the early years will have long-term health benefits. I too exercise regularly. Whenever my children do something wrong, they are made to do ‘jumping jacks’ as punishment.” He adds, “Simple exercises like walking, running, cycling, swimming and stretching should help. About 30-60 minutes of physical exercise after school can re-energise children to do their homework. Take them for a long walk or bike ride during weekends and explain the benefits of regular exercise.”

Exercise For A Healthy Mind!

Now that you know the various ways in which physical activity influences mental health, put this new-found knowledge to good use. Make exercise a part of your daily routine and let your child follow through as well. A sound mind in a sound body, is an oft-used adage and for good reason. We wish you the same!

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