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Exercise And Teen Happiness: One DOES Cause The Other

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

A recent study conducted in The Netherlands demonstrates that participation in regular exercise improves teenagers’ mood, friendship and school success. Yale University child psychologist Alan Kazdin., speaking on NPR, said, “I think it would be too strong to call it an elixir, but it has the broad effects of something like that.”

We all know that exercise is good for you. But this study takes that commonplace idea a step further. It found that teens’ regular exercise – in the form of organized sports, WII activities, or regular jogging or walking – is linked to greater self-esteem and happiness and fewer mood disorders and troublemaking. Because of the large scale of this study, which surveyed 7,000 students between ages of 11 and 16, it’s clear that it’s not that happy kids exercise more. It’s that exercising more makes happier kids.

So what does this mean for parents? It means that gym class should not be cut from the school day, even if by skipping gym there’s room in the schedule for more science or for chorus. It means that kids should be encouraged to actually participate in gym class, instead of sitting on the sidelines.

Participation in daily exercise is easier when commitment is enforced, so participation in team sports is another answer, along with continued training in the off-season. Team sports – anything from field hockey to Ultimate frisbee to soccer – get teens moving. But not everyone likes team sports or has time to fit in regular practices. For these teens, individual daily exercise is a good alternative so long as it is daily.

It’s easy to imagine that being active is only for teens who like running around or only for teens who need to lose weight. In actuality, being active is important for everyone and it seems to have particularly good effects at an age when kids struggle most with social relationships and achievement.

The connection between exercise and achievement is well-established. More active students do better in school. But now we know something more: more active students are easier to live with. That’s an outcome the parent of every teen would like to see.

One more thing: you know you can’t get your child to exercise more just by telling him to do so. If your teen is interested in joining a sports team, encourage that. But if your child is not interested in team sports, then support whatever interest in exercise you can: WII, bike-riding, mountain climbing, swimming, walking the dog. Anything will do as a place to start.

And, as always, setting a good example is important. You still feel like a teenager at heart, don’t you? Get moving and feel like a teenager in your heart and in your core and brain as well!

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.