We all know that exercise is good for us, but it can be so hard to fit into a busy schedule. Growing up I was competitive in Tae Kwon Do which gave me plenty of exercise. Exercise was a huge part of my life with competing to teaching TKD and kickboxing at local gyms and universities for over 20 years. As a big part of my life, exercise became a stress relief, an autoimmune buffer and a biological regulator. But after two kids and a busy schedule, I often struggle to find the time to go the gym. About six months ago, I decided enough is enough and I began to turn to playing with the kids as a form of exercise. And here’s why:
- Exercise Builds the Muscles, Bones, Heart, Gut Microbiome and Brain: An abundance of research has shown that exercise makes stronger muscles, bones and cardiovascular health. (1,2,3,4,5) Exercise, especially weight resistance exercises, can help support neurological function and brain health in both the elderly and school aged children research. (6,7,8,9,10) It is not just the extra blood flow to the brain that is beneficial, exercise increases the hormones that boost the growth of brain cells themselves. Exercise even has a beneficial effect on our gut microbiome. (11,12)
- Exercise Can Alleviate Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression as well as Fatigue: Studies have repeatedly found the benefit of exercise with mood, decreasing feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise promotes changes in the nervous system and HPA axis that help manage stress and anxiety better. Exercise even makes the brain more sensitive to serotonin and norepinephrine which helps with symptoms of depression. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), the most abundant neurotrophin in the brain, in decreased levels has been linked to both anxiety and depression. Exercise has been shown to increase the levels of BDNF in the hippocampus as well as promoting physical changes and growth in the hippocampal region of the brain. (13,14,15) While I often start a workout with a feeling of not enough energy, I know, and research has certainly shown us, that exercise fires up those mitochondria which fights the fatigue and gives us more energy. (16,17,18)
- Exercise Helps with Stress and Sleep: Exercise even helps us get a better night sleep. It turns up the heat in our body and uses up energy stores which promote a restful sleep as the body temperature drops signaling deep sleep and the body recovers from it’s work. Research repeatedly shows us how exercise and quality sleep go hand in hand. (19,20,21,22)
- Exercising as a Game with My Kids Gives Us the Movement and Family Bonding We All Need: As a working mom who homeschools as well, I have a hard time fitting it all in. Exercising together in an informal way has created such an opportunity for bonding, I was surprised. We hiked together, played soccer and rode bikes together, but the quality of bonding while exercising went through the roof when we turned it into a game. Now I put on my workout clothes and running shoes and follow their lead for as long as I can.
My exercise routine looks like this now. 2-3 days a week I lift weights by myself at home. I can take my dumbbell set (it goes up to 50 lbs per dumbbell) outside for a 30-45 minute session, no fuss, no muss. 2-3 days a week I play with the kids, trying to emphasize movement. We run from zombies, play tag, follow the leader, warrior/wizard training and sometimes if I just start running around the kids quickly come up with a game to keep the action going! What is your favorite way to move with your family?
-Dr. Catherine Clinton ND
1. Shashi K Agarwal. Cardiovascular benefits of exercise. Int J Gen Med. 2012;5:541-5.
2. Tipton KD, Wolfe RR. Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2001 Mar;11(1):109-32.
3. Xu J, Lombardi G, Jiao W, Banfi G. Effects of Exercise on Bone Status in Female Subjects, from Young Girls to Postmenopausal Women: An Overview of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. Sports Med. 2016 Aug;46(8):1165-82. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0494-0.
4. Zulfarina MS, Sharkawi AM, Aqilah-S N ZS, Mokhtar SA, Nazrun SA, Naina-Mohamed I. Influence of Adolescents’ Physical Activity on Bone Mineral Acquisition: A Systematic Review Article. Iran J Public Health. 2016;45(12):1545-1557.
5. Anton SD, Hida A, Mankowski R. Nutrition and Exercise in Sarcopenia. Curr Protein Pept Sci. 2018;19(7):649-667. doi: 10.2174/1389203717666161227144349.
6. Bherer L. Cognitive plasticity in older adults: effects of cognitive training and physical exercise. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015 Mar;1337:1-6. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12682.
7. Jackson PA, Pialoux V, Corbett D, et al. Promoting brain health through exercise and diet in older adults: a physiological perspective. J Physiol. 2016;594(16):4485-98.
8. Kirk-Sanchez NJ, McGough EL. Physical exercise and cognitive performance in the elderly: current perspectives. Clin Interv Aging. 2013;9:51-62.
9. Donnelly JE, Hillman CH, Castelli D, et al. Physical Activity, Fitness, Cognitive Function, and Academic Achievement in Children: A Systematic Review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48(6):1197-222.
10. Marques A, Santos DA, Hillman CH, Sardinha LB. How does academic achievement relate to cardiorespiratory fitness, self-reported physical activity and objectively reported physical activity: a systematic review in children and adolescents aged 6-18 years. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Aug;52(16):1039. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097361. Epub 2017 Oct 14.
13. Mikkelsen K, Stojanovska L, Polenakovic M, Bosevski M, Apostolopoulos V. Maturitas. Exercise and mental health. 2017 Dec;106:48-56. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003. Epub 2017 Sep 7.
14. Anderson E, Shivakumar G. Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Front Psychiatry. 2013;4:27. Published 2013 Apr 23. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027
15. Ensari I, Sandroff BM, Motl RW. Effects of Single Bouts of Walking Exercise and Yoga on Acute Mood Symptoms in People with Multiple Sclerosis. Int J MS Care. 2016;18(1):1-8.
16. Puetz TW. Physical activity and feelings of energy and fatigue: epidemiological evidence. Sports Med. 2006;36(9):767-80.
17. Ellingson LD, Kuffel AE, Vack NJ, Cook DB. Active and sedentary behaviors influence feelings of energy and fatigue in women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Jan;46(1):192-200. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a036ab.
18. O’Connor PJ, Puetz TW. Chronic physical activity and feelings of energy and fatigue. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Feb;37(2):299-305.
19. Kredlow MA, Capozzoli MC, Hearon BA, Calkins AW, Otto MW. The effects of physical activity on sleep: a meta-analytic review. J Behav Med. 2015 Jun;38(3):427-49. doi: 10.1007/s10865-015-9617-6. Epub 2015 Jan 18.
20. Driver HS, Taylor SR. Exercise and sleep. Sleep Med Rev. 2000 Aug;4(4):387-402.
21. Gilbert SS, van den Heuvel CJ, Ferguson SA, Dawson D. Thermoregulation as a sleep signalling system. Sleep Med Rev. 2004 Apr;8(2):81-93.
22. Paul D.Loprinzia, Bradley J.Cardinal. Association between objectively-measured physical activity and sleep, Mental Health and Physical Activity, Volume 4, Issue 2, December 2011, Pages 65-69