When looking at trauma recovery in children, we tend to search for solutions in the domain of therapy: cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, pharmacotherapy and the like. However, we may also be able to help in other ways.
For example, physical activity may promote children’s recovery. A recent publication by Soyeon Ahn (University of Miami) and Alicia Fedewa (University of Kentucky) suggests it is a potentially important addition to therapy. The authors combined the findings of 73 studies examining the effects of physical activity on mental health outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, self-esteem, and PTSD in children.
Physical activity interventions significantly reduced mental health problems, including PTSD, and enhanced self-esteem in high-quality trials (in line with earlier research with adults). The largest effects were found for circuit or strength training, and for a combination of aerobic and resistance training exercise. The more children took part in these activities, the less mental health problems they experienced.
One could argue that being physically active would help children who are overweight, but not children who are of typical weight. It turns out that is not the case; irrespective of their weight, children profit from physical activity. Furthermore, the review shows that teachers are able to lead these interventions successfully. Thus, schools may contribute to children’s mental health not only by talking about it, teaching children coping skills, and referring to mental health care services, but also by simply providing more physical activities.
Of course, with regard to trauma, more specific research on the effects of sports activities should be done, and it is necessary to think about possibilities for children with physical disabilities due to serious injury. But the major implication of this review is that clinicians, parents, and teachers should encourage children to be physically active.
Do you systematically discuss physical activity with children who have been exposed to trauma, and if so, what is your experience?
Ahn, S., & Fedewa, A. (2011). A Meta-analysis of the Relationship Between Children’s Physical Activity and Mental Health Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 36 (4), 385-397 DOI: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsq107
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