Benefits Of Kids Exercise For Children Include Lower Stress
March 7, 2013

A Little Exercise Can Save Kids From A Lot Of Stress

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

In an ideal world, childhood is supposed to be a time of carefree enjoyment and exploration for everyone. It should be a time for running, for playing and for trying as many new things as possible. While many of today´s youth are still afforded these opportunities, many have traded running and playing for television and gaming, a fact evidenced by the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.

New research by The Endocrine Society in Maryland has concluded these sedentary children are more prone to stress than their active peers. According to the study, when these less active kids experience everyday stressors, their bodies produce excess levels of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. By contrast, children with active lifestyles do not produce this excess cortisol when faced with similar stress factors.

“The findings suggest physical activity plays a role in mental health by buffering children from the effects of daily stressors, such as public speaking,” said lead author Silja Martikainen with the University of Helsinki, Finland.

To measure these results, Martikainen conducted a cross-sectional study of 252 eight-year old children, observing both their physical activity and cortisol levels. Each of the children wore an accelerometer on their wrist to gauge their physical activity. Saliva samples were also taken periodically to measure the amounts of cortisol in their bodies. Then, Martikainen and her team placed these children under normal, everyday stressors, such as arithmetic problems and story-telling activities.

The children were then split into three groups, dependent on their activity levels — most active, intermediate and least active. According to the data, those children who were most physically active also had lower amounts of cortisol in their bodies when faced with the stress of math and public speaking.

“Clearly, there is a link between mental and physical well-being, but the nature of the connection is not well understood,” explained Martikainen. “These results suggest exercise promotes mental health by regulating the stress hormone response to stressors.”

While obesity is one of the most acute pediatric health issues in the US, recent studies have shown there are some simple steps parents can take to ensure their kids live healthier lifestyles. A better diet, in combination with regular exercise, say experts, could keep stress and various long-term health problems at bay.

Last December, a study from Leeds University´s School of Food Science found kids who eat meals with their families tend to eat more vegetables than their peers who eat alone.

Janet Cade, the study´s supervisor, found kids who eat even one meal a week with their family stand to learn better eating habits which can, in turn, help fight childhood obesity.

One month later, a study from the University of Illinois found adding as little as an extra three to four minutes of family meal time has been proven to stave off childhood obesity in low income families.

The study´s lead author, Barbara H. Fiese, claims these extra minutes can add up over time and have a profound effect on a child´s health.