Exercise a Drug-Free Solution for Kid’s Behavior Problems

happy hiker

Is there a link between physical activity and outdoor play on children’s mental health?

There is very strong evidence that physical activity, outdoor play and time outside in nature are all significant factors in improving behavior problems in kids of all ages.

Read what the experts and studies reveal:

National Wildlife Federation


Health Benefits

Remember playing outside until mom called you in for dinner? Today’s kids probably won’t.

In the last two decades, childhood has moved indoors. The average American boy or girl spends just four to seven minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen.1, 2, 3

This shift inside profoundly impacts the wellness of our nation’s kids. Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled the last 20 years; the United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world; and pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have risen precipitously.4,5,6

Our kids are out of shape, tuned out and stressed out, because they’re missing something essential to their health and development: connection to the natural world.


  • Outdoor play increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies, an important strategy in helping the one in three American kids who are obese7 get fit.
  • Spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.8
  • Being out there improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness.9


  • Exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.10
  • Schools with environmental education programs score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing and listening.11
  • Exposure to environment-based education significantly increases student performance on tests of their critical thinking skills.12


  • Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.
  • Play protects children’s emotional development whereas loss of free time and a hurried lifestyle can contribute to anxiety and depression.14
  • Nature makes you nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community and close relationships.15

National Wildlife Federation

National Wildlife Federation


Go to NWF and get great ideas for outdoor activities


How Running and Exercise can Impact the Behavior of ADHD Children

January 31, 2001
by Dr. Michael S. Wendt, Ed.D

A study performed at the State University of New York at Buffalo investigated the effects of intense exercise on the behavior of ADHD children. Dr. Michael S. Wendt, Ed.D. designed and headed the six week study which yielded a significant improvement in the behaviors of ADHD children.

Greatest gains were made in reducing the incidence of conflict and oppositional problems with subjects involved in the study. Children ranged from five to twelve years in age and all were professionally diagnosed with ADHD.

Wendt, who worked as a public school administrator said that the study was conceived in his office while he worked as a vice-principal for an Upstate New York School between 1992 and 1996. “I saw a correlation between exercise and behavior, especially when it came to ADHD children.

…The bottom line is that we are not challenging some of our most gifted children. Their gift is the ability to handle a lot of activity. When they get up to be active we remedy the situation by giving them a “Time-out.” If they do not sit then we remedy the situation further by medicating them. Giving them a “Time -in” may be the only remedy they need. The side effects of increased exercise are well documented and the side effects of drugs are well documented. Let common sense be the judge of what is best for our children….


Benefits of Exercise for Children Get-up and Go!

By Uta Pippig

Take The Magic Step® is an international organization that promotes slow and gradual lifestyle changes. We work closely with individuals, charities, and corporations that share our belief that healthier habits lead to happier lives.

Founded in 2004 by Uta Pippig, the internationally known marathon runner, Take The Magic Step began as an organization through which she could channel her desire to inspire others to help themselves. Over time, it has evolved beyond this Web site and her work with charities into a platform that enables her to also share both her knowledge of body and mind fitness techniques and love of the sport of running with fellow athletes, corporations, and others who want to achieve healthier, happier lives.

Active children enjoy additional health benefits, because:

  • Exercise increases the blood flow to all body tissues, including the brain. Greater blood flow transports more oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells.
  • Active children improve their body’s ability to absorb oxygen through aerobic exercise. Due to the increased oxygen in their body’s cells they feel more energized. More oxygen translates into more energy!
  • Increased blood flow promotes the body’s transportation of the byproducts of metabolism and toxins back from the cells for elimination, recycling, or further use elsewhere. Children who exercise feel fitter and more energized because of their body’s ability to detoxify.
  • Active children breathe better and sweat more. Breathing and sweating are great ways to detoxify the body and help it keep itself “clean.”
  • Children increase their over-all fitness through exercise.

Exercise Improves Mental Health

  • Exercise enhances the brain’s metabolism. Studies show that active children have improved memory as a result of better brain function!
  • Moderate, fun-oriented exercise literally burns off excess harmful hormones and, at the same time, increases the release of beneficial ones. One of the beneficial hormones acts as neurotransmitter for establishing new memories.
  • Active children have the ability to concentrate much better, even at the end of a long school day.
  • Studies report that exercise decreases anxiety, reduces depression, and improves mood and outlook in children. In addition, their quality of sleep is improved.

Perhaps most importantly, physical activity develops children’s self-esteem and confidence. Their ability to overcome difficult situations improves and they simply enjoy a better, sunnier outlook on life.


The Importance of Movement and Physical Activity

Article by Eloise Elliott, Ph.D and Steve Sanders, Ph.D

from PBS teachers at PBS .com

Besides reducing the risks associated with childhood obesity, physical activity is important for other reasons. Regular physical activity helps children build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints; builds lean muscle and reduce fat; prevents or delays the development of high blood pressure; reduces feelings of depression and anxiety; and may, through its effect on mental health, increase students’ capacity for learning. With these facts in mind, it is imperative that we, as teachers, help reduce the amount of physical inactivity, by increasing the amount of physical activity opportunities that children have during the school day. Being physically active not only provides important health benefits, but also provides children opportunities to learn through movement….

…The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (1998) has issued physical activity guidelines suggesting that young children should have an accumulation of more than 60 minutes, and up to several hours of physical activity each day to promote health and well-being. We also know that it is through movement and physical activity that young children learn about their world. Integrating physical activity with other subject areas gives children more opportunities to move during the school day. Learning in all areas of the curriculum is increased as children have more opportunities to understand the relationships that exist across content areas as they transfer what they learn in one area to other environments.

PBS teachers at PBS .com

Physical Education is Critical to a Complete Education

National Association for Sport and Physical Education

The benefits of physical education can affect both academic learning and physical activity patterns of students. The healthy, physically active student is more likely to be academically motivated, alert, and successful. …

Physical Benefits

…Physical benefits gained from physical activity include: disease prevention, safety and injury avoidance, decreased morbidity and premature mortality, and increased mental health.

…Research has demonstrated that children engaged in daily physical education show superior motor fitness, academic performance, and attitude towards school versus their counterparts who did not participate in daily physical education. Physical education learning experiences also offer a unique opportunity for problem solving, self-expression, socialization, and conflict resolution.

National Association for Sport and Physical Education


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