When it comes to mental health, young children are often not researched and their tantrums or mood swings are not taken seriously, when in reality these small behavioral issues could be pointing to a larger issue. Children are the most overlooked when it comes to mental health diagnosis and treatment, unless the child begins to display extreme behavior (Philpott et al., 2019). However, preventative mental health care is arguably more pragmatic and less taboo than diagnosis and treatment. While there is research to support the use of exercise in mental wellness, there is still not enough done within the children demographic to implement this in a strategic and routine way (Philpott, 2019). Some research has shown that teaching kids healthy habits, such as exercise, can be effective as a preventative or treatment measure (Philpott et al., 2019).
Extensive research with adults has shown that the use of non- pharmaceutical options is the optimal treatment for mood disorders in both long term and short term (Norwitz et al., 2021). Non-pharmaceutical routes of treatment are a way to avoid side effects, possible drug dependency, worsening condition, and irreversible biochemical changes (Norwitz et al., 2021). Ample evidence has highlighted the importance of non- pharmaceutical interventions for mental health. For example, lower levels of vitamin D are associated with multiple mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. In addition, prior research has shown that regular exercise, even if performed at low amounts (15-minute durations at 3 times a week) had significant ameliorative effects on depressive symptoms, likely because exercise increases concentration of a growth factor (i.e., BDNF) for the hippocampus (Hughes et al., 2013) . During the early childhood years, the brain undergoes critical development. More specifically, neural connections are overproduced and then subjected to selective pruning; this process allows for maximum efficiency in cognitive functions (Shonkoff, 1970). Disturbances in this process can thus adversely affect behavioral, emotional, and cognitive functioning (Shonkoff, 1970). For young children, exercise habits are critical for development due to the critical stages of brain development that they are in, and therefore the positive impacts from healthy habits may be long lasting and effective (Duman et al., 2012).
"The Effects of Exercise on the Mental Wellness of Children (ages 3-6),"
McNair Research Journal SJSU: Vol. 19
, Article 6.