By Dyan Eybergen, RN
There are a lot of reasons to be physically active – the least of which is to reduce weight – but in fact, that is exactly how we sell its benefits in society. Weight loss can be achieved through exercise, but not as readily or as importantly, as relieving stress! Recent studies are more consistent in indicating that regular exercise training has more antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects that protects against harmful consequences of stress (substance abuse, chronic disease, high blood pressure, headaches, depression and anxiety, etc) than being an effective weight loss tool.
When we engage in rigorous physical activity we produce endorphins — a neurotransmitter or “chemical” in the brain that act as natural painkillers. When your body releases endorphins, they cause two distinct reactions: they bind to receptors in the brain which block other neurotransmitters that cause you to experience pain; and release more of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which causes you to feel pleasure.
In Canada, one in five has a mental health disorder and 75% of those disorders originate in childhood. American statistics are startlingly similar. According to the 2015 annual report, 40 million adults in the United States are affected by an anxiety disorder. In Canada in 2015, the leading prescription medications used by children and young adults (ages 6 to 24) were for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (males), depression and anxiety (SSRI’s), and contraception (females). The same class of drugs made the top 10 most prescribed list in the United States.
With these statistics, it is imperative that we teach our children to effectively manage anxiety. Why not start by introducing the natural anti-stress benefits to exercise! According to the research literature on the subject, here are 10 mood-improving-stress-relieving benefits to exercise:
- reduces fatigue
- improves alertness and concentration
- improves memory
- improves overall cognitive function by boosting brain cell activity
- improves the ability to sleep
- boosts the immune system
- reduces to clear the stress hormone cortisol
- improves mood – people who exercise reported feeling “happier”
- improves self esteem – you feel and look better!
- calms the mind and reduces negative thinking
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Children and youth aged 5–17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily.