Benefits of Exercise for Children who have Experienced Trauma
Exercise is routinely one of the most important aspects of a healthy life. The benefits of exercise for children who have experienced trauma are even more important. In this article we will explore the benefits of exercise for children who have experienced trauma.
Trauma is a highly charged topic of discussion. Adding to the discussion of child trauma, I intend to tread lightly in this article and only discuss benefits of exercise.
If you would like a more comprehensive discussion of the impact of trauma on child development, please refer to this article.
Exercise and Trauma
Children who experience trauma are at a higher risk for even medical illnesses later on in life if it is not treated. Childhood traumatic experiences, or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are shown to be predictors for heart disease, liver disease, substance use disorders, depression, and suicide (Finkelhor et al 2015) later on in life.
Building habits for exercise early on can help develop healthy habits and structure for when children grow older and combat the potential for these illnesses.
As a simple rule, our bodies and our brain are in constant communication with each other. This means that our brains can tell our bodies what to do and how to feel.
What is not quite as recognized is that the reverse is true, as well! Have you or your child ever tried yoga and felt calmed down afterwards for seemingly no reason? It turns out there was a reason.
When your body takes on a specific posture it communicates with your brain how you should feel. Certain postures send different signals. So, your body will adapt by sending those signals to your brain telling it to release certain chemicals so you feel the way your body wants.
Seems simple, right? It gets more interesting.
Exercise is not the exception: your brain will adapt its biochemical release to whatever posture or movement you are doing. This is why you may get endorphins from doing physical activities like exercise.
The big message here is get your child’s body moving! Exercise will NOT process through a traumatic event in its entirety. It is not only a healthy practice to develop early on for long-term health.
Exercise can help in moments when their day-to-day is becoming too much for them to handle. This may be the toxic stress stored in their systems. The following are some PTSD exercises for healing for parents at home to do with your child/children!
Trauma Informed Activities for Children
Check with yours and your child’s doctor before attempting exercise outside of what you already do regularly.
Walking–nature hike, city walking
Walking is probably my favorite of the exercises I have on here! The best thing about it is that it is accessible to most people. Stan Efferding, the creator of the Vertical Diet recommends walking for at least 10 minutes after each meal to aid in digestion.
If you eat on average 2-4 meals per day, this means you can potentially walk up to 40 minutes per day without even feeling it! Walking is also calming for the nervous system due to its “back and forth” nature of using your legs, which is soothing to the body.
The back and forth bilateral stimulation I mention here is a tenant of EMDR, a therapy I use in practice. Feel free to read more about EMDR here.
If you or your child do not have the ability to walk, no worries! Simply focus on back and forth repetitive and low impact movements. For example, simply go out in a wheelchair if your child is wheelchair bound-preferebly a non-electric one if they are able.
This all depends on your ability to be mobile, but there are many different ways that you can participate even if you are not able to walk. Be sure to enjoy the flowers!
For children, this is great for a lot of the same reasons walking is. Races and tag along with other games kids tend to play can burn up adrenaline in their bodies. They are also psychologically more involved with the movement in this way.
So if they are able, encourage your child to play tag and have some footraces with friends or siblings!
Weightlifting for Kids – Kids Strength Training
I know what you are thinking regarding Olympic Weightlifting for children: that’s not safe! I am going to have to disagree with you and here is why.
Weightlifting is completely safe under the direction of a highly qualified and specialized coach. It is shown in many research studies that Olympic Weightlifting in children results in less injuries than in typical sports like football, basketball, and volleyball.
Be sure to check out what some of the coaches who do this work are saying if you have questions. This article has some great information about children’s Olympic Weightlifting.
Gymnastics is of course on here! The high levels of coordination of the body and mind in gymnastics is paramount for children to learn. Dominion over the body is compromised in trauma.
It is phenomenal for children to practice controlling their bodies in a highly structured manner like in gymnastics for this reason. Plus, who doesn’t like swinging from rings?
In the same vein as gymnastics, yoga is an even better example of a slow and intentionally moving sport that involves high levels of mind-body connection. Yoga at the beginning level can be much lower impact than gymnastics. This makes yoga a great starting place.
Search up “trauma informed yoga for children” or simply an easy yoga class for children to begin your child’s path to physical recovery.
Sports in General
Now I realize it seemed like I was bashing typical afterschool sports earlier as being not safe. Any physical activity has the potential to be unsafe.
Research has shown that more children get injured in afterschool sports than weightlifting. This is not all the crazy of an idea. Chances are there are way more children participating in typical afterschool sports than lifting. The most important aspect of your child’s physical activity is that they enjoy it!
Under the direction of a qualified coach your child can have a lot of fun working with their bodies on the field or court and begin the process of reclaiming what is theirs!
For all of my kids that I see in practice, I ALWAYS recommend to parents that they participate in some sort of regular physical activity. I always recommend this if a child has experienced trauma. The benefits of exercise for children should always be considered!
Allowing your child’s mind and body to work together synergistically is a great way that you can help out your child at home with their behaviors related to trauma and toxic stress. So what are you waiting for? Get out on the trails!
If you are wanting to chat a bit more about exercise for traumatized children, feel free to reach out.
If you are in Michigan and are wanting psychological consultation for your child or yourself, feel free to reach out using my contact form!