For children struggling with mental health disorders, movement may be the answer

A new study finds physical fitness impacts mental health in children and young adults.

Physical fitness, mental health, Black mental health, Black health and wellness, Mental Health Awareness Month,
A new study confirms physical fitness has benefits for mental health in children. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Parents and other adults begging children to put down the screens and go outside and play may truly be onto something.

Days before Mental Health Awareness Month kicked off on May 1, a new study found that physical fitness has many benefits for children and young adults, including improved mental health.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on April 29, analyzed data collected anonymously from Taiwan National Student Fitness Tests compared with data from the National Insurance Research Databases. Researchers tracked students aged 10 to 11, from 2009 to 2019, comparing their physical fitness to their mental health. They also looked closely at certain conditions such as anxiety and depression disorders and ADHD/ADD. 

Not only did researchers find that greater physical fitness was associated with decreased mental health disorders, but that certain types of fitness improved specific conditions.

For instance, cardio fitness — measured by a 30-second faster half-mile — was associated with lower risks of anxiety, depression, and ADHD in female students while indicating lower risks of anxiety and ADHD in male students.

“This study highlights the potential protective role of cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular endurance, and muscular power in preventing the onset of mental disorders,” researchers wrote in the study, per People magazine

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Researchers added this study could prove that specific fitness practices could be used as preventive measures against mental health disorders in children.  

This is only the latest study to confirm the potential mental health benefits of getting and staying active. For years, physicians and other experts have touted physical fitness as a way to maintain overall health and wellness, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending physical fitness as a means of improving sleep, reducing anxiety, and functioning better overall. 

From cardio to daily walks to swimming to house and yard work, moving the body can take many forms; there are even mindfulness practices that get the body and mind flowing. 

In recent years, more and more schools, especially those with high disciplinary issues, have been implementing mindfulness practices like yoga to great success. In Baltimore, two predominantly Black schools, one elementary and one senior high, repurposed their punishment rooms as “Mindful Moment” rooms where students have the opportunity to talk openly with an instructor about any issue at hand and are coached through mindfulness practices including yoga. 

“The Mindful Moment program has had a very positive effect on Patterson High School,” the principal, Vance Benton, said, according to The Washington Informer. “Students are conscious of the need and are open to the Mindful Moment practice.”