Wellness Blog

"Wellness is not the absence of illness but the presence of purpose in life; satisfying work and play, joyful relationships, a healthy body and environment— and happiness"

Exercise vital to wellness

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Exercise has long been linked to improved mood, greater self-esteem, increased mental functioning and a reduction in stress but new research indicates the benefits of physical activity could be even greater among children, particularly those with attention issues.

The nine-month study published in the October issue of the medical journal Pediatrics found that kids who took part in regular exercise showed an enhancement of cognitive performance and brain function. Improvements were seen in the areas of resisting distraction and maintaining focus, working memory as well as cognitive flexibility.

While the news of exercise’s value is hardly a shocking revelation to most—it’s happiness-inducing endorphins are an established fact—Donnelle Super, a therapist at Stairways Behavioral Health’s Child and Family Outpatient Clinic can attest to the positive impact activity has on kids. Super, an exercise enthusiast and local triathlete who also coaches a local elementary cross country team, said the difference with kids who exercise regularly is noticeable.

“I see with the kids I work with that it not only helps with reducing stress but it helps with their social skills and self-esteem,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard for kids to get started on a program, but once they do, they seem to really like it.”

Super also sees exercise’s beneficial qualities extend to the adults she treats, who report greater socialization and reduced stress, sometimes to a visible degree.

“One woman walks up a hill for her exercise and socialization, another guy uses it to control his anger,” she said. “It’s hard to measure because mental health in general is hard to measure, but you can see improvements sometimes just by their physical appearance.”

While Super notes the qualitative nature of mental health and the effects of exercise, another study published in the October Journal of Abnormal Psychology produced evidence that kids who took part in a 12-week exercise program enjoyed better math and reading scores. The improvements were especially pronounced among children with signs of ADHD.

Even very light physical activities improve mood and cognitive performance by prompting the brain to release dopamine and serotonin in a manner similar to the way stimulant medications act.

As more research is discovered, more evidence of exercise’s benefits emerges that establishes a critical link between taking a jog, riding your bike or swimming a few laps and improved mental capacity and mood.

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