Melissa Carter, our Family Life Coach has written a great article about the importance of exercise and activity for our mental health.

In February 2020, research published in Lancet Psychiatry found that 60 minutes of activity each day at age 12 was linked to an average 10% reduction in depression at age 18. These activities include running and biking to walking, doing chores, painting or playing an instrument.  Also highlighted in this research is the fact that sedentary behaviour increases as children grow older, with depression scores highest among the least active. Each additional hour of sitting at age 12 was linked to an 11% increase in depression scores at age 18.

“It’s not just more intense forms of activity that are good for our mental health.” (Kandola, 2020)

As parents, we understand that engaging in physical fitness creates improved wellbeing and improved wellbeing cultivates happy, confident and resilient children and young people. However encouraging our children to get active is not always straightforward. Due to the global pandemic many children and young people have become even more sedentary.  A meta-analysis of the Global Prevalence of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Adolescents During COVID-19 (JAVA, 2021) published as recently as Monday August 9th found depression and anxiety has doubled compared to pre-pandemic levels. One in 4 adolescents globally are experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms, while 1 in 5 young people are experiencing clinically elevated anxiety symptoms (Madigan, 2021). Kandola and Hayes found that at age 14, each additional hour of being inactive raised depressive scores by 8%, while 16-year-olds had an increased score of 10.5%.  When we link these scores to Madigan’s most recent research, it becomes even more apparent that we need to find ways of helping children and young people to engage in activity or exercise.

“A lot of initiatives promote exercise in young people, but our findings suggest that light activity should be given more attention as well.”  (Hayes, 2020).

Physical activity does not always come easy to children and can take young people out of their comfort zone. For children it may be helpful to get a list together of all the activities that are available at home, at school and in the wider community.  Talk about possibilities together and perhaps choose one achievable family activity each half term along with one personal goal.   ‘The Sorting Hat’ activity is a fun way of everyone choosing chores.  All possible age appropriate chores are written down, folded and put into a hat.  The children take turns to draw their weekly chores from the sorting hat.  They do these for the week until the next sorting hat is offered full of different chores.

Young people are often dedicated to physical activity or shy away from it as self-esteem challenges create reluctance. Parents can help young people by validating feelings. Rather than being critical, try to notice positive behaviours.  For example, “Instead of saying, ‘You’ve been sitting there for hours, you should get up and do something. How about calling your friends or going outside?’ You might say, ‘I’m going shopping or I’m walking the dog.  Let me know if you want to come with me, and maybe we can get lunch/coffee together.’  It is equally important to recognise these smallest of steps taken and to celebrate the goals and medals.

It is also important to respect individual preference towards physical activity at different ages and as Hayes (2020) suggests, we need to give more attention to light activity and accept that all activity is a step in the right direction whether it is painting, walking the dog, individual or team sports, all physical activity creates the same wellbeing benefits.

Researchers studying the relationship between fitness and wellbeing have found benefits such as:

  • Better sleep
  • Happier moods
  • Reduced anxiety, stress and depression
  • Improved focus
  • Better self-esteem
  • Positive body image
  • Stronger connections

As parents, we want to do everything that we can to support our children and young people through this time in their lives yet we must do so with compassion. It is up to us to recognise the symptoms of anxiety and depression, allow these feelings to exist, investigate what is happening to our children and young people and finds ways of enabling them to nurture their worries. For fitness and wellbeing, we know that activity and exercise must be part of this self-care practice.

For further information regarding symptoms of anxiety and depression in children and young people you can call for free the parent hotline at Young Minds on 0808 802 5544 from 9:30am – 4pm, Monday – Friday.

The following websites also offer supportive information.