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Is physical activity good for my child's mental health?

Yes. Research suggests physical activity (any activity that gets your body moving, including exercise) has positive effects on children’s mental and physical wellness, including children who have mental or behavioral health issues. Physical activity can be by yourself or with friends and family.

What are the benefits of physical activity?

Mental and behavioral health benefits

  • Improved mood, concentration and attention
  • Less anxiety and depression, especially if children take part in team-based sports
  • Better classroom behavior and academic achievement
  • Higher self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Stronger sense of self
  • In high school and college students, lower chances of suicidal thoughts or suicidal attempts

Physical benefits

  • Better lung, heart and brain health
  • Stronger muscle
  • Healthier body composition (the balance between a person’s muscle and body fat)
  • Better ability for the body to handle and adapt to stress
  • Higher levels of endorphins (feel good chemicals) in the brain

Other benefits

  • Lower levels of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use among high school students
  • In children with ADHD, improved attention, learning, memory and processing speed, and improved social, motor, behavioral and emotional skills
  • In children with ADHD, less hyperactivity and impulsivity (impulsive behavior, or when a person does not stop to think about the consequences of their behavior before engaging)

How much physical activity should my child get to notice the benefits?

Try to make physical activity a part of your child’s everyday life for about an hour (60 minutes) each day. This can be all at once or you can split up the time throughout the day. This should include 3-5 days a week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity (physical activities that raise your heart rate and make you sweat and breathe heavier).

The most important thing is that your child has fun! If your child is not having fun, ask what they would rather do instead.

Did you know…?

The effect of physical activity on depression symptoms are similar to the effects of antidepressants or cognitive behavioral therapy (talk therapy that explore the relationship among thoughts, feelings and behaviors).

What are some ideas for physical activity?

Remember - physical activity is any activity that gets your body moving! Physical activity can be by yourself or with friends and family. It includes all types of physical activity, like walking, dance, exercise, sports or playing outside in the yard or at a park.

Younger children

  • Make up games to play in your driveway or yard, like hopscotch or basketball.
  • Go for a walk or bike ride. Bring the family dog if you have one!
  • Play tag with friends or family
  • Play in the yard or at a local park.
  • Have a hula hoop competition.
  • Pick an animal and pretend to move like them.

Older children and teens

  • Join a local or school sports team.
  • Take dance classes at a dance studio, school or online.
  • Follow along with YouTube® workout or dance videos.
  • Go for a walk, run, jog or bike ride.

Have fun with it!

Whatever type of physical activity your child does, encourage them to have fun! Set a good example for your child by engaging in your favorite physical activities as well.

Rev. 1/2021. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.