By Sandi Schwartz
As we all know, being a parent is the most important job in the world. Our children look up to us for guidance on everything in life, even if we don’t realize it. One way that you can be a positive role model to your kids is in the area of fitness. Staying fit is critical to our health and well-being—including our mental health and happiness. We can help shape our children’s views on exercise by modeling healthy behavior and making fitness a fun part of our family’s daily routine.
Why Exercise Is Important For Managing Stress and Anxiety
Experts have found a clear link between exercise and stress reduction. Harvard scientists concluded that “Regular aerobic exercise has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress.” According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, some studies show that consistent exercise can be just as effective as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety. Other research shows that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety than those who do not exercise. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.
Here are several ways in which exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety:
Produces Endorphins. When we exercise, our body releases feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. These chemicals in our brain act as natural painkillers, making us feel better and less stressed. Endorphins are responsible for the natural high we get from a hard workout.
Reduces Stress Hormones. Exercise reduces the level of stress hormones in our body like adrenaline and cortisol, helping us feel calmer.
Minimizes Fatigue. Exercise improves blood flow and our body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently. These changes in our brain then reduce fatigue and improve alertness, concentration, and cognitive function. This helps us when we are stressed out because we are depleted and need to return to a more balanced level of energy. When we are stressed, many nerves in our brain and throughout out body are impacted. Scientists conclude, therefore, that if our body feels better, then our mind will also feel better.
Improves Self-Esteem. Behavioral factors also contribute to the emotional benefits of exercise. When we gain strength and begin to see a difference in our body, we feel better about ourselves and become happier and more confident. Feeling better about ourselves shifts our focus to positive thoughts and away from fear and anxiety.
Provides A Fun Distraction. One of the best parts about exercise is that it gives us a time to take a fun break from the stresses in our daily lives. Whether you are jogging to your favorite upbeat music or socializing with friends on the tennis court, your mind is distracted and you can just have a good time.
Encourages Mindfulness. A great bonus of exercise is that it provides the perfect opportunity to enjoy a mindful moment. While we work out, we can fully engage in the present moment instead of letting our mind run wild with worries. To get the best result, experts suggest doing rhythmic activities that engage the whole body like running, walking, swimming, dancing, rowing, or climbing. Helpguide.org suggests that “as you move, instead of continuing to focus on your thoughts, focus on the sensations in your limbs and how your breathing complements your movement. If your mind wanders to other thoughts, gently return to focusing on your breathing and movement. If walking or running, for example, focus on each step—the sensation of your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breath while moving, and the feeling of the wind against your face.”
How To Be A Good Fitness Role Model
It’s so important that we play actively with our kids from a young age and that we consistently exercise in front of them (and sometimes with them) to show them how importance physical fitness is. From going on family bike rides to coaching one of their sports teams, there are so many helpful ways for you to be a fitness role model to your children throughout their lives. Here are some more ideas to get you moving:
Go for a hike outdoors. Not only are walks and hikes wonderful, safe exercise that the entire family can enjoy, they are also an opportunity to connect to the beauty of nature to bring you a sense of calm. Try adding some fun to your family hikes by turning them into a race or scavenger hunt, and by venturing to new parks and trails in your area and while on vacation.
Take a mommy and me yoga class together. Yoga offers so many incredible benefits to both you and our children including balance, strength training, time for inner focus, and an opportunity to connect with our bodies in ways we aren’t used to. Sign up for a yoga class that you can take together or pop in a video or load an App so you can do some yoga together in your living room, or better yet in your backyard.
Make exercise a priority even in bad weather. Show your kids that you still go on your morning run even if it’s not sunny outside. On days when it’s cold or rainy, set up your fitness routine indoors and get your kids involved. Put on a workout video and have them join in. There are also lots of fun ways to use your indoor space to get everyone moving. Some of the easiest exercises to perform indoors include jumping rope and calisthenics like push-ups, sit ups, and jumping jacks. Or put on some peppy music and play freeze dance or have a hula hoop contest. Before you know it, you will all be working up a sweat!
Give sports-related gifts. Another way to make fitness a priority in your home is to choose gifts like workout clothes, sports equipment, and how to books about sports during birthday and holiday time. You can also choose some tickets for a sporting event and make it a fun family outing to cheer on your team together.