There has been a dramatic increase in anxiety and depression in both adolescents and young adults over the past few years, laments Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik, a Guelph, ON, physician. Adolescents are not coping as well as previous generations when faced with difficult situations in their lives. Children are also suffering from low levels of fitness that compromise their abilities. This combination makes them less resilient than previous generations.
According to Dr. Zajdlik, children need more freedom, independence, and exercise. Active transportation can play an impactful role in having children cope better late in adolescence and young adulthood. Children who bike to school have the opportunity to take small risks each day. These minor risks help to develop resiliency and self-confidence that can be drawn upon when facing life’s challengers in later years.
Children with opportunities to bike in their neighborhood also become more familiar with their community. They get a sense of what is dangerous and what is not. Children become risk-adverse when watching too much TV and otherwise spending too much time indoors; they have to get out there and live.
A Daanish study recently indicated that children who get exercise before school are more engaged in their studies. Children appear to benefit more from the exercise than from having breakfast and lunch. What better way to build exercise into their day than to have children walk, bike, scooter, or skateboard to school?
Dr. Zajdlik recommends that children get at least an hour of exercise a day. During physical activity, the pituitary gland at the base of the brain is constantly being activated. This stimulation allows for the production of growth hormones that help children grow and bones become strong. A healthy brain also allows for peak intelligence, improved memory, and sound mood.
A connection can also be made between exercise, mental health, and resiliency to mood disorders later in life, said Dr. Zajdlik. An hour of exercise a day can be as effective as a low dose of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, which is the most common antidepressant she prescribes. Dr. Zajdlik worries that inactivity and the lack of independence in our children today decreases their brain’s resilience – not only to mood disorders but also in their ability to cope with normal difficulties and stressors in life.
A way or presenting children with more opportunities and freedom is through a practice called “gradual release of responsibility.” Parents model what behavior they want to see in their kids – how to cycle confidently, for example. After a while, children gain confidence and parents will also gain confidence that their kids can travel on foot and by bike. The benefits of active transportation for children are tremendous: improved fitness, increased awareness of their surroundings, and more confidence. It’s time to get our kids moving.
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