Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on November 04, 2021
Try Yoga to Ease Anxiety
Yoga boosts brain chemicals that seem to tame stress. Even tiny kids can do poses. In teens, studies show that yoga is better at easing anxiety and improving mood than regular gym classes. You don't even have to go to a class. There are plenty of free yoga videos on YouTube. It's also available on game systems like the Xbox 360 and Wii.
Boost Self-Confidence Through Team Sports
While any exercise is good for mood, playing on a team may have specific benefits. Studies show that kids on teams have a better self-image and are less likely to be depressed or anxious. Along with the physical activity, the sense of belonging that comes with being on a team may improve mood. When kids have fun being active, they're more likely to want to move and exercise.
To Tame Restlessness, Try Martial Arts
Martial arts teach discipline and control. They may be especially great for high-energy kids. One study of 8-to-10-year-olds with behavior problems found that karate class helped them become more adaptable and better at controlling their behavior. When kids can control behavior, it's easier for them to make healthy choices. For example, they can think before grabbing the chips, and reach for fruit instead.
Why Exercise Helps
Intense exercise causes a "runner's high" -- a flood of natural, feel-good chemicals called endorphins. But the effects fade quickly. Exercise helps mood over the long haul because it’s good for your body and your brain. It makes brain cells healthier, especially in areas of the brain that control your mood. Some experts compare daily exercise to a natural antidepressant.
Bonus: Exercise Is a Natural Energy Booster
When your teens are worn out from studying, suggest a quick walk or a few minutes of jumping jacks or basketball. It’s better than them turning to coffee, soda, or energy drinks for an artificial boost. The sugar in sodas and energy drinks can lead to unhealthy weight gain. And caffeine can make them anxious and irritable. After a 10-minute brain break to get their blood flowing, they'll come back refreshed, energized, and ready to refocus.
Mindful Exercise to Relax
When your kids are stressed out and looking for food to de-stress, suggest they use exercise to relax instead. Exercise doesn’t always have to rev kids up. Tweens or teens can turn exercise into a type of meditation that is relaxing. Instead of distracting themselves by watching TV or listening to music on a treadmill, suggest they focus inward while they run.
Ask them to feel their breathing, the rhythm of their feet hitting the treadmill, and their heartbeat. It takes some getting used to, but this approach may help your kids feel deeply relaxed after exercise. When you’re relaxed, it’s easier to be more mindful about choices you make to be healthy.
Try This: After-School Dance Party
Looking for ways to get kids moving? Make moving fun. Throw a dance party when everyone gets home. Each person gets to choose a few songs and everyone dances like crazy. It may take just 5 minutes of moderate dancing for your kids to work up a sweat. You will, too, and the health benefits are great. Want to keep going? Great. It all adds up to the 60 minutes of physical activity kids need every day.
Create Smiles With Unstructured Play
If your kids aren't into structured play or being on a competitive team, they can still get the benefits of exercise. Just about anything works: kicking a ball in the backyard, jumping rope to some fun music. Remember, it all counts as exercise and is good for their bodies and moods.
Bonus: Exercise = Sound Sleep = Better Moods
Exercise also helps with sleep. Studies show that active kids fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer than kids who don't move around as much. The more vigorous the activity, the faster they fall asleep. Getting enough sleep is so important. When kids get enough rest, they're better able to control their emotions and make healthy food choices. They also have more energy to move all day.
Exercise Makes for Happier, Healthier Kids
When kids move and play, it helps their mood. That helps them make smarter, healthier food choices. Feeling good also motivates kids to move and play more. It’s a great cycle. Over time, exercise may help kids sharpen their thinking and do better in school. It can lower their chances of getting sick. It can improve body image and helps kids maintain a healthy weight.
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American Psychological Association: "The Exercise Effect."
Annesi, J. Psychological Reports, 2005.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: "Walking Can Improve Mood."
Girls Health.gov: "Taming Tempers."
A Healthier Michigan: "Exercising with Your Kids."
Healthy Women: "Boost Your Energy Naturally."
Helpguide: "Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief."