STEINFELD: Exercise is good medicine for the mental health of South Dakota children | Opinion

Jake (Jake’s Body) Steinfeld

Today, more than ever, our children are struggling with their mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but the issue needs to be recognized year-round. We simply cannot ignore the problem any longer. Between recent mass shootings in New York, California, and Texas and the pandemic, federal agency leaders are sounding the alarm about a new phenomenon they’ve called a “national mental health crisis.” young people”.

COVID-19 alone has led to increased rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. Since April 2020, emergency room visits related to children’s mental health have increased significantly for school-aged children and adolescents. In fact, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that “the number of children ages 3-17 diagnosed with anxiety increased by 29% and those with depression by 27%.” Children need social interaction to thrive, but with past school closures, quarantine and social distancing, their wellbeing has suffered immensely.

Although I don’t have all the solutions, I can tell you from personal experience that exercise has a profound impact on the mental health of our children.

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I have been advocating for the benefits of exercise for our children for over 40 years now. Not only does it fight childhood obesity, but it also improves school performance and MENTAL HEALTH. The American Psychological Association reviewed 114 studies and found that “young people who exercise more have lower levels of depression, stress and psychological distress, and higher levels of positive self-image, satisfaction of life and psychological well-being”.

Governor Noem understands this and has hosted my foundation, the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils, in South Dakota where we will be delivering three state-of-the-art $100,000 fitness centers to Custer Elementary School in Custer, Newell School in Newell and Sturgis Williams Middle School in Sturgis as the most notable schools in the state for demonstrating leadership in shaping and retaining their students. She said: “Exercise builds both physical and mental strength. We want South Dakota to be a leader in teaching children the basics of lifelong health and wellness.

Building a solid foundation of fitness at a young age will help lay the foundation for them to grow into strong, healthy adults. I find that when kids build stronger bodies, they also build confidence and self-esteem. Research supports this too. Low-intensity exercises improve brain function and make children feel better, while high-intensity workouts 3-4 times a week can reduce clinical depression. In fact, according to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report, children ages 6 to 17 who participate in regular to vigorous physical activity have fewer symptoms of depression and a reduced risk. to develop major depression.

I have worked hand in hand with governors across the country to implement DON’T STOP! Fitness centers in elementary and middle schools and enthusiasm for working out and getting in shape are at an all-time high. School authorities are beginning to understand the urgency and importance of providing fitness resources to their students and staff. Our DON’T STOP! Fitness centers become an integral part of the fabric of the community and help create lasting positive change.

The bottom line is that we must act now by putting the mental health of our children first. If your community lacks mental health resources, any type of exercise is a powerful tool you can use NOW. If your child is feeling sad, angry, stressed or anxious, lead by example and move your body. Go for a walk together, kick around the soccer ball, or do some jumping jacks or push-ups.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) invests in critical strategies to grow the mental health workforce and expand access to mental health services. These strategies will take time to implement, but getting our children to exercise is a tangible benefit that can be realized immediately. Introducing physical activity and fitness to our children is simply good medicine. This will help them maintain a healthy weight, improve their mental health and ultimately enrich their quality of life.

Our children are our most precious resource. When our children are strong and mentally healthy, our nation’s future will be strong. DON’T STOP!

Jake Steinfeld is president of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils; whose sole mission is to provide DON’T STOP! Fitness centers at elementary and middle schools across the United States. To learn more about the DON’T STOP! Campaign, visit

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