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Mindful Movement: The Power of Exercise for Your Mental Health

As we approach Mental Health Awareness Week, celebrated this May 13th through the 19th, the Mental Health Foundation has challenged us to move our bodies more to promote a healthy mind with a campaign called "Movement: Moving more for your mental health." While it is easy to want to be healthier, it is challenging to carve out time from busy family schedules to prioritize physical activity in our day-to-day routines. But moving our bodies isn't just about breaking a sweat – it's about nurturing resilient minds and fostering healthier family dynamics. Movement can be a cornerstone of mental wellness for families.

Researchers in the UK found that 20% of youth aged 8 to 16, or one out of every five young people, experienced symptoms of a mental health disorder. Trends in emotional distress for children and young people's mental health have notably changed since 2017– likely due to the impact of stressors such as peer bullying, the lasting effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, and fears about the cost of living, education, climate change, and the future. Research also suggests that parents with young children are also struggling with their mental health. A recent survey conducted of millions of parents in the UK found that 61% of parents have concerns about their mental health.

The Mental Health Benefits

The benefits of movement extend far beyond physical fitness. Movement is good for our minds, and exercise is a natural and effective antidepressant and anti-anxiety treatment. Physical movement can reduce tension and the effects of stress on the body, provide an overall sense of well-being, promote better sleep, enhance self-esteem, and provide a more positive sense of self. One recent study indicates that physical exercise shows promise in managing mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety. Additionally, research conducted by Mental Health UK found that exercise helped 56% of participants manage stress more effectively.

Integrating Movement into Family Life

Finding time for movement amidst packed schedules can be challenging in today's fast-paced world. But you do not need to join a gym or enroll your child in a costly team sport. Creativity and commitment make it entirely achievable with any budget or schedule! Researchers have found evidence that exercising about 45 minutes three to five times a week delivered optimal mental health benefits. Start by carving out dedicated family movement sessions – whether it's a weekend hike, a dance party in the living room, a post-dinner stroll, or a backyard game of soccer. Sit down as a family to generate a list of ideas to exercise together and make a mindful commitment to all move a little more often. Incorporating movement into your daily routines, such as walking or biking to school or engaging in household chores together, can lend to a more active family lifestyle.

Variety is vital to sustaining interest and maximizing the mental health benefits of movement. Exercising together as a family is a great way to grow closer together and encourage children to explore diverse forms of activity. Organize some play groups with other children in your neighborhood for games in a nearby park. Organized sports, if your budget allows, offer children the experience of being on a team and a set schedule for physical activity. Look for classes you can take together, such as yoga, to rejuvenate body and mind with one another.

Parents must also prioritize time dedicated to their own physical activity. The idea of carving out an hour or two a week for yourself can provoke feelings of guilt or stress about how to make the time, but a healthy parent can be a better parent. By making a conscious decision to take good care of yourself, you will feel healthier, more relaxed and better able to take on the challenges of parenting, working, and all the other things on your plate. Enroll in a spin class, join a yoga studio, or create a walking club with some of the other parents in your child’s school. Taking that hour away from your family is not time stolen from them. It is an investment in you being healthier, with strong emotional wellness to be present for your family when you are with them.

Recommendations for Parents

As a child's first and primary role model, parents play a pivotal role in promoting movement and mental wellness habits. Consider these practical recommendations to make a mindful commitment to move more:

1. Lead by Example: Demonstrate the importance of movement by prioritizing physical activity and involving your children in active pursuits.

2. Make it Fun: Choose activities the whole family enjoys and mix them up to keep them engaging and exciting. Be spontaneous. Go on a spur-of-the-moment walk in the park on a gorgeous day.

3. Set Realistic Goals: Focus on your progress rather than perfection, celebrating achievements and encouraging persistence. By modeling self-compassion, you can offer your children opportunities to change their internal self-talk and be encouraging in the face of challenges in achieving a goal.

4. Prioritize Family Time: Use movement as an opportunity to bond as a family, fostering connections and creating cherished memories. Work together to establish an intentional goal to be more active.

5. Encourage Open Communication: Create an environment where children feel supported to talk about their feelings and experiences related to physical activity and mental well-being.

Mental Health Awareness Week is a prompt to remind us of the importance of taking good care of our whole selves, including our mind and emotional well-being, through the transformative power of movement in nurturing healthier minds and stronger families. By integrating regular exercise into our lives and prioritizing mental wellness alongside physical health, we can build resilient children equipped to thrive in today's world while helping ourselves live our best lives. Movement can be the catalyst for positive change and greater well-being and happiness.

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