Exercise Is Good Medicine for Wyoming Kids’ Mental Health

Today, more than ever, our children are struggling with their mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but the issue needs to be recognized year-round. We simply can no longer ignore the problem. Between mass shootings, the pandemic and social media, our children are suffering.

COVID-19 alone has increased rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal ideation. Additionally, since April 2020, emergency department visits related to child mental health have increased dramatically for school-aged children and teens. And, according to the Child Mind Institute, “Evidence is mounting that there is a link between social media and depression. In several studies, teen and young adult users who spend more time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms have been shown to have a substantially higher rate (from 13% to 66%) of self-reported depression than those who spend less time.”

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Governor Gordon has already made the health and well-being of Wyoming people a priority and recently launched a website, Governor’s Mental Health Summit & More, which focuses on working towards solutions to improve mental health. He is now taking further steps to help improve the mental and physical health of school-age children in the state, in partnership with our organization, the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils. We just released 2023 DON’T GIVE UP! Wyoming Fitness Campaign Where Three Middle and High Schools Will Receive $100,000 DON’T GIVE UP! Fitness Center to showcase innovation in fitness, health and wellness (School nominations will be accepted through Friday, March 26. Visit https://natgovfit.org/apply-now/ and click your state button to download the short app).

While I don’t have all the solutions for improving mental health in this great country of ours, I can tell you from experience that exercise has a profound impact on our children’s mental health.

I have been championing the benefits of exercise for our children for over 40 years. Exercise not only fights childhood obesity, it also improves academic performance and MENTAL HEALTH. The American Psychological Association reviewed 114 studies and found that “youths who exercise more have lower levels of depression, stress, and psychological distress, and higher levels of positive self-image, life satisfaction, and psychological well-being.”

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that “the number of children ages 3 to 17 diagnosed with anxiety grew by 29% and those with depression by 27%.” In Wyoming alone, 14% of children ages three to seventeen have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, which puts the state slightly above the national average of 12%.

Building a strong foundation of fitness at a young age will help lay the groundwork for them to grow into strong, healthy, happy adults. I think when kids build stronger bodies, they also build confidence and self-esteem. Research supports this as well. Low-intensity exercise improves brain function and makes children feel better, while high-intensity exercise 3-4 times a week can reduce clinical depression.

I’ve been working side by side with governors across the country, putting DON ‘ T GIVE UP! Gyms in elementary and high schools. Enthusiasm for working out and getting in shape is through the roof, and I hope the results are the same in Wyoming. School administrations are beginning to understand the urgency and importance of providing fitness resources for their students and staff. Our DON’T GIVE UP! Fitness Centers become an integral part of the fabric of the community and help create lasting positive change.

While the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) invests in critical strategies to grow the mental health workforce and expand access to mental health services, these strategies will take time to implement. However, getting our kids to exercise is a tangible benefit that can be done now. Introducing physical activity and fitness to our children is good medicine. It will help them maintain a healthy weight, improve their mental health and ultimately enrich their quality of life.

The bottom line is that we must act now by prioritizing our children’s mental health. If your community lacks mental health resources, exercise is a powerful tool that can be implemented right away. If your child is feeling sad, angry, stressed or anxious, lead by example, go for a walk together, play soccer or do jumping jacks or push-ups.

Our children are our most precious resource. When our children are mentally healthy and strong, our nation’s future will be strong. DO NOT GIVE UP!

Jake Steinfeld serves as President of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils; whose sole mission is to provide DON’T GIVE UP! Gyms for middle and high schools across the United States. To learn more about DON’T GIVE UP! Fitness Campaign, visit www.natgovfit.org.

Exercise Is Good Medicine for Wyoming Kids’ Mental Health

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