Physical Fitness and Your Mental Health

May is National Physical Fitness Month (NPFM) which provides us with a great opportunity to talk about how physical activity, healthy eating habits, and mental health are connected.   The purpose of NPFM is to encourage all Americans to pursue a life filled with physical activity and proper nutrition in order to live healthy lives.

Physical fitness and daily activity are critical to maintaining overall health and the need to encourage activity is more true for teenagers today than at any point in the past.  Between processed foods, sugary soft drinks, increased use of technology, and a lifestyle that is generally more sedentary than that of generations past, it is no wonder that the obesity rate in teens (and everyone else) is on the rise.  The best way to fight this problem is to encourage our teens to adopt a lifestyle that is centered on physical fitness and healthy eating habits.

The benefits of physical activity don’t stop at improving our teenager’s physical health; it can also play a big part in managing mental health.   Unlike obesity, physical activity and healthy food aren’t a way to cure or combat some of the most prevalent mental health conditions our teens face, but being active can help alleviate and manage symptoms.   Treatment recommendations for depression, bipolar, anxiety disorders and ADHD all include physical activity as one of the key components of treatment.   When you consider the entire picture, it is easy to see that helping the teenagers in our lives increase their physical activity is a win, win, win.

Here are some great ways to get teenagers involved in more physical activity.

  1. Make physical activity a priority for your family.  Active parents provide great role models for active teenagers.
  2. Plan family time around active pursuits.  By making the time you spend as a family time you spend being active, you are building stronger bodies and stronger bonds.
  3. Look for physical activities that can be incorporated into your daily routine.  For example, if there are places you can walk to, walk instead of driving.
  4. Plan parties and family gatherings that include physical activity.  Setting up a volleyball net at the graduation party or holding a birthday party at a roller rink are great examples of how to make this work.
  5. Use local resources.  If you live somewhere that people love to go hiking, try hiking.  If you have access to lakes or rivers, try kayaking.
  6. Leverage everyone’s interests.  If you can find physical activities that are also interesting to your family members it will be easier to incorporate them into your overall routine.
  7. Keep it simple.  Physical activity doesn’t have to involve a ton of equipment or expensive fees.  It can be as simple as an after dinner walk, playing Frisbee in the park, or going for a bike ride.
  8. Pick weatherproof activities.  It is definitely easier to be physically active when the weather is right and it’s fun to be outside.  But once it gets too hot, too cold, or there is inclement weather, you can get knocked off your routine.  Find activities that your family can do together no matter the weather.

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