Exercise for better mental health in children

A physically active child is a healthy child.

We all know that physical activity strengthens a child’s muscles and bones, prevents excessive weight gain, and reduces the risk of diabetes and other diseases.

However, physical activity is also beneficial to the mental health of a child. Physical activity allows children to have a better outlook on life by building confidence, managing anxiety and depression, and increasing self-esteem and cognitive skills.

Various research point to the fact that aerobic exercises increase the endorphin level in the brain and make children ‘Happy Children”. Children with Behavioural health Disorder (BHD), autism and ADHD showed less disruptive behaviour and better control over moods. Exercising improved overall mood and behaviour in children and better self-regulation.

Depression and exercise

The relationship between depression and exercise in children and adolescents has been receiving lot of attention in recent times. Kremer and colleagues* investigated the associations between physical activity, leisure-time screen use, and depressive symptoms. The data were obtained from the Healthy Neighbourhoods Study, a cross-sectional survey of 8256 children and adolescents (mean age, 11.5 years) in Australia. The odds of depressive symptoms were lower when there were greater opportunities for the youths to be involved in a sport or other activities at school outside of class, to be very active during physical education classes, and to play on sports teams both at school and outside of school. Youths who were physically active at least 60 minutes per day were also less likely to have depressive symptoms. Lower levels of leisure-time screen use (video game, computer, television) were also associated with lower depressive symptoms in adolescents. (* Kremer P, Elshaug C, Leslie E, et al. Physical activity, leisure-time screen use and depression among children and young adolescents. J Sci Med Sport. 2014; 17:183-187)

A whatsapp chat session for parents was organized and the session expert was Manish Jayal who is a well-known cycling and running coach in Delhi-NCR. Some excerpts from his session.

“Let’s understand what happens during an exercise:

In simple language exercises increases the blood flow in the body and engages all the organs. Exercises can be categorized in to aerobic and anaerobic. The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the mood elevators.

There are a few very basic activities which are required for every human being specially the kids:

  1. Breathing exercises- It strengthens the system with better oxygen utilizing capacity.
  2. Meditation from an early age- this helps in a developing a habit of focusing, thus helping to excel in any kind of activity.
  3. Core building activities.

Now the question of stress: Breathing exercises help in feeding more oxygen to the brain thus helps in removal of stress

Mediation or any form of engaging activity which helps a child in keeping mental and physical focus helps in eliminating toxins which are by products of stress and accumulated in the body gets dissolved.”

Question 1: How to develop good running stamina in children?

Answer: “There are very good modules available online. But I suggest to train through a running coach who has experience in competitive racing. At home you can set targets like below:

  1. Warm up
  2. Light jogging
  3. Set a particular distance and give a target to complete in a particular time.
  4. Set the standard higher. Repeat.”

Question 2: My 14 years old is on a heavier side. He eats right and plays rigorously for 1.5 hours every day. Still he doesn’t seem to lose weight and is slow in his movement. What do I do to increase his agility?

Answer: “if he plays or involves in similar activities every day then you need to change the pattern and put him into cross training as the body must have adapted to the current situation.”

Question 3:  I’m not a runner. How do I calculate my child’s running performance?

Answer: “Note the current time and let him maintain the same for a week. Then give him a target after reducing 5 seconds from the current comfortable time. If he is able to achieve that easily then reduce 5 more in the next round and maintain that for a week and so on. Keeping a log of distance and time and also to see any visible signs of fatigue or pain or soreness is important. Keeping a log of what he has eaten also plays a major role in assessing and improving one’s performance.”

Question 4:  What should the child be eating before work out?

Answer: “A simple one portion of carbs 60 minutes prior to the activity. No later than that. Or if you can calculate, 150 grams of carbs.”

“To answer queries on height related concerns

I have my studies which clearly states that:

  1. Height is decided by genetics
  2. There is a growth plate at the edge of the long bones which helps in getting the height of the body.
  3. The growth plate is soft hence flexible but till a certain age that is maximum 19 years. After that it starts hardening and then there is no impact on the height growth.
  4. What we can do is exercise to keep the blood flowing unobstructed thus giving good feed to the plates and helping the height to grow.
  5. Stretching is very effective tool for height growth
  6. Hopping, jogging, speed skipping ropes and pull ups. Pull ups help in stretching the spine and helping the blood and energy flow.

Courtesy: Manish Jayal. Fitness Expert



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