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How Mood and Motivation Impact Physical Activity

Being active is a proven mood booster.

The good news is that even a low-to-moderate level of activity has the potential to lift mood and energy levels, as well as reduce symptoms of some mental health challenges like depression.

But it can be hard to get going sometimes. For children and youth who are experiencing depression, it can be particularly challenging to find the drive to get active. Depression can drain energy, motivation, and concentration a person needs for daily activities. 

Support your child to do some physical activity every day if possible. Encourage movement by helping them start small, and taking the pressure off. There may be better days when some movement is possible, and days when it’s too much.

For children and youth with more severe depression, they may need to focus on supporting their mental health in other ways. It’s OK to take a break, and start again when feeling ready.

Here are some tips to encourage movement (and rest):

  • Start as small as you need to. For children who really struggle to get started, begin with just 10 minutes of movement, or even a few minutes every day. Try taking a short 10 minute walk around the block, listen to music and move with it for 10 minutes at a time, or get up during tv commercial breaks. Read more tips on getting started and building movement into your day-to-day
  • Get active with a friend or family member. Socializing can make any physical activity easier to start, and more fun to stick with in the long run. Activities like yoga work-outs or even brisk walks can be more fun when your child has company and you do it together. You may need to do the activity with them until they start to benefit and become motivated. Plus, socializing can have an additional positive impact on their mental health and well-being.
  • Develop a consistent plan for activity. Regular physical activity is best, so making consistent plans is key. Try to commit to a plan of action together. If a plan is in place, such as meeting a friend for a walk, they may be more inclined to follow through. 
  • Work with your child’s own rhythm and energy. Encourage your child to listen to their body so that they can judge when best to engage in activity. Feelings of guilt for not engaging in physical activity can overwhelm them. They may have good days when movement possible, and bad days when activity is too much. Remind your child that this is okay take a rest. Encourage them to be patient, kind to themselves, and follow their own rhythm when it comes to being active.
  • Help your child find an activity they want to do. Maybe the excitement of their favourite sport can give them motivation to get active and out of the house. Or if leaving the house is too much, there are plenty of ways to get creative and move at home. By eliminating some steps - dressing, packing, driving - it may seem easier.  
  • Help your child with self-care: Instead of focusing on physical activity, encourage them spend more time in nature. Check in to see if you can support their needs around good nutrition and better sleep. They can also try mindfulness and meditation exercises on several free apps. 
  • Get support from a health professional: You and your child don’t have to do this alone. Sometimes the focus needs to be on their mental health with the support of their care team. You can also ask for ways to encourage your child in getting active. They can help you figure out how to help your child resume activity after a pause, or when they’re feeling ready.
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