Fighting Depression With Exercise
When you ask an adult why he goes to the gym regularly, he will probably say that he wants to keep fit and that exercise helps him cope with the demands of his busy life. Having a physical outlet can be very helpful for a child, too. Many of the depressed adolescents I have worked with have dramatically reduced their symptoms of depression when they got involved with significant physical exercise, such as lifting weights, wrestling, football, basketball, kickboxing, karate, aerobics, swimming or running.
Regular exercise not only helps a child establish good habits that will serve him well as an adult, it also helps to improve a child’s mood by releasing endorphins, those hormones that help a person feel better. And if all that were not enough, in addition to the direct positive physical effect, exercise can boost a child’s self-esteem by giving him a more positive image of his abilities and his physical appearance.
When your body is healthy, your mind is healthier, too, which can dramatically reduce episodes of depression. The Oxford dictionary defines exercise as “the exertion of muscles, limbs, etc., especially for health’s sake; bodily, mental or spiritual training.” It has been shown that exercise creates endorphins, hormones that make us feel good. But we still do not encourage meditation or other calming forms of mental and spiritual practice that improve well-being and health – particularly by reducing stress, a major risk factor for depression.
Getting started with exercise
To help a child get started on an exercise program, it is sometimes helpful to make it as a family activity. You can take brisk walks together and spend quality time talking to your child as well as improving your own physical condition.
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If your child persists in being unwilling to engage in physical activities, it might be time to have her checked out by a physician to rule out any physical problems. If nothing is physically wrong, a child’s resistance to exercise might be the result of her lack of energy. A significantly depressed child often avoids the suggestions that might help her feel better because she simply does not have the energy to invest in them. If that seems to be the case, start slowly – a short walk, even if it is accompanied by grumbles, is a beginning. You can increase the time or the distance every few days and gradually work up to an effective exercise program.