It takes 1-2 years for preschoolers to feel the mental health benefits of exercise

A study on preschoolers found that the mental health benefits of movement come after “one to two years” of regular exercise.

In the study, kids showed fewer external and internal indicators of negative behaviour (like aggression or being overly withdrawn) by training for a minimum of three times a week.

If sticking at exercise is the key, then a fun supportive environment is critical. Photo: secretninjaschool.com

Which means that forming a love for movement is critical to realising the positive impacts of exercise. Because, if you don’t love it on some level, you won’t stick at it. That’s as true for a 4 yo as it is for an adult.

Anecdotally I’ve always believed that kids get the most out of it when they’re having fun. The line I say to parents is: I’m keen to see them progress, but that progression is more meaningful if they WANT to come to class and then leave with a smile. Simply because they’ll stick at it for longer.

And as this research shows, sticking at exercise is THE point. So forming a positive relationship with exercise from a young age is critical.

The role of the parent is super important here. If you find a good coach that you think has a good relationship with your child, then as often as possible you should facilitate positive conversations around that exercise. I’ve seen lots of kids start to fall off the bandwagon, even when they’re having fun in class, when they see or hear their parents associate negative thoughts with the training. If it’s not right for your kids, then of course find another environment that is. But your kids will have the best chance of sticking at a sport or discipline if they think you love it too.

Martial arts instructors of two generations ago insisted on ‘discipline’ in the form of the stick or carrot. For me, and my wonderful mentors, it’s about understanding the students so that we can make them laugh, and encourage them to push themselves. This way, we walk alongside the students and learn with them. We encourage critical thinking and ownership of their journey. 

This isn’t to say that discipline isn’t part of the process. But the methods by which the kids find discipline is different. 

What do you think? How much importance do you place on sticking at a sport or activity?

By Keiran Deck

Reference: Tubic and Dordic (2013)

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