Two new studies published recently in the journal Paediatrics, show how exercise can help children combat depression as well as behavioural disorders.
Physical activity strengthens a child’s muscles and bones, prevents excessive weight gain, and reduces the risk of diabetes, cancer, and other conditions. However, physical activity is also beneficial to the mental health of a child.
Experts say exercise gives children a better outlook on life by building confidence, managing anxiety and depression, and increasing self-esteem and cognitive skills.
The benefits of physical activity for children were assessed in two studies. Both analysed the positive effects of exercise on children’s mental well-being.
One study concluded that moderate to vigorous physical activity at ages 6 and 8 is linked to fewer symptoms of depression two years later.
The other study looked at cyber cycling (involving riding an exercise bike while looking at virtual reality scenery) and concluded that cyber cycling improves classroom functioning for children with behavioural disorders.
Children with Behavioural Health Disorders (BHD) demonstrate low participation in aerobic exercise, and cyber cycling was important because the children found it engaging. Many of these children have sensory disorders, social anxiety, and delays in developing motor skills, so it’s difficult to make traditional sports and exercise programs attractive to them.
Research shows exercise improves mood and behaviour in children and lowers chronic disease risks, but there is little research on educational settings serving children with complex BHD, the study explained.
The researchers investigated whether an aerobic cyber cycling physical education curriculum could successfully engage and improve behavioural regulation and classroom functioning among children and adolescents with complex BHD.
Students diagnosed with autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, or mood disorders were randomly assigned to use the bikes twice a week during 30- to 40-minute physical education classes. Researchers found the program to be successful as children gradually increased their riding time and intensity over seven weeks.
Overall, children in the intervention group, who ranged in ages 7 to 16, displayed up to 51 percent less disruptive behaviours than during the control period, with the effect particularly strong on the days they participated in the cyber-cycling class, the study reports, demonstrating there appears to be a direct correlation between this type of exercise and improvement in behavioural health.