Friday, September 26, 2008

Puberty – our Canary in a Coal Mine for the Benefits of Daily Exercise

Note=this one is not really about youth sports, just about the benefits of exercise for all ages.

As toddlers, kids moods seem to be fairly predictable, and are usually related to eating and sleeping patterns. But it’s still dicey and, at times, there are screaming tantrums that come and go with no real obvious cause. I think it’s nature’s way of preparing you for puberty.

Then, as small kids (say about age 5-10), and about the time they start playing outside for whole afternoons at a time with friends, having regular PE class, having regular recess, and/or doing organized sports and fitness programs the moodiness stabilizes and they are usually in a good mood. Thus the kid and the family is happy, they get mostly what they want and the cycle continues: happy happy happy. They start playing some sports, you notice they really like it and are usually in a good mood, etc. Thus you are lulled into thinking you have a happy, healthy, well rounded human being on your hands. Thank God we have this time and become thoroughly enchanted and bonded with our child(ren) and develop unconditional love. We will surely need it soon….

It never really occurred to me to question WHY they were in a good mood and so agreeable during this time. It’s the activity and the exercise, duh! (obviously it’s the sleeping and eating too, but I’m way too unmotivated to try to research that).

After raising quite a few kids (all athletes of some sort) and witnessing the drastic effect exercise has on their moods I have come to believe regular, high energy exercise on a daily basis is extremely important for our children’s mood/happiness factor/whatever you want to call it. Puberty is like a canary in a coal mine for proving this true and could save lots of research dollars….all you have to do is grab any one kid with his/her first few zits and a cell phone, and start taking notes.

Now that I’ve got yet another one, the last one (thankfully) in the beginning throes of puberty, I can very clearly see that there are very very distinct mood patterns and the signs are easy to read. For example last Saturday (which happened to be rainy and soccer practice had been cancelled) at approximately 3:05 pm, my daughter was skipping around the house with a phone attached to her thumbs and actual butterflies and unicorns were gently wafting out of her butt. Her face had the look of Brooke Shields right after kissing Christopher Atkins in the Blue Lagoon. The words spewing out of her mouth were “Sure, mom”, “your hair looks awesome Mom”, and “I’ll do the dishes for you” etc….. All was well (a little too well). Then suddenly at 3:19 with no warning sirens at all, I heard the sound that causes the rest of us to involuntary cringe…a distinctive moan, a beating on the wall, then horrible words start flying out of her mouth. They were words which I can’t even type w/out attracting the wrong elements to this blog. Just suffice it to say we (all people over the age of 25 and anyone living in our house) are totally ‘mentally handicapped’ and no one has any emotional intelligence whatsoever at our house. Furniture was kicked and broken bits of My Little Pony’s flew thru the air. Her face was red and contorted and resembled the Creature from the Black Lagoon. 18 minutes later, there is crying, sounds of depression and regret and then depressing silence. 27 minutes later….the butterflies and unicorns are back. This cycle continued throughout the day until, she went for a long walk with the dog which turned into a jog, and built up a good sweat. The rest of the evening was awesome.

Compare this to the following Saturday: she had a soccer game, which is an hour of warm up, stretching, cardio and light jogging, followed by a very rigorous game. The mood for the rest of the day: Awesomely, supremely, even-keeled. While we didn’t get the unicorns and buttlerflies, we got the normal, happy well balanced little human (she still had the zit unfortunately) we had grown to love during the happy age 5-10 stage.

So I think no more research need be done…it’s OBVIOUS: vigorous exercise improves mood in everyone. It’s just super obvious/enhanced/pronounced/underscored in the moody pre-teen. FINALLY… a use for them. We can stop sending them to boarding school, they have a purpose. They are the fruit flies of behavioral science.

There is tons of actual scientific proof (just Google it), but I feel my current demon/angel child (and the ones that came before her, all proud graduates of one boarding school or another) is proof enough.

I’ve witnessed it a lot:

1) Tantrums are wayyy worse when they’ve been laying around the house all day
2) Homework takes forever and seems much more painful when they haven’t exercised; and once they hit middle school the homework is too hard for the parent to do anyway so you can’t even it do it for them while they are crying into a pillow for no reason.
3) Once they get in the cycle described above they can’t be motivated to exercise or listen to any sort of reason, so it’s good to have things pre-planned early in the day if they don’t a practice or a game
4) Lack of sleep in Puberty is a terrible, circular pattern thing, they naturally want to stay up really late, but still have to get up early for school. Exercise definitely helps them get to sleep earlier.

Possible solutions:

1) if you know there are no games/practices for the day/evening pre-plan something physical like walking the dog, mowing the lawn, inviting a friend over to ‘play catch, play soccer, go to the pool, etc.
2) avoid at all costs a day with nothing planned but watching tv or movies, unless you child isn’t suseptable to this violent mood swings
3) I’ve even heard of parents who’ve paid their kids to go for a run with them; you know, try to treat it like mowing the lawn, or vacuuming, etc. they don’t have to know you are really paying for an enhanced mood.
4) Start young, way before puberty, to get them started in the early sports programs and make it positive experience, and if and hopefully by puberty you will have a kid who is playing at least one sport on a regular basis well into their teens.

Good luck! Puberty and moody kids can be a real rollercoaster no matter what, but I can’t think of a thing that helps even it out more than regular exercise and structured, competitive, team or individual sports. I’ve tried pharmaceuticals, and exercise wins.


M said...

I agree that activity and exercise play a key role in the development of the child. I Also agree that exercise will assist in releasing excess energy resulting in a calmer individual. I need exercise to clear my mind as it is so important! Nice post!

Crabby McSlacker said...

It sounds so obvious when you say it--but I don't think I've read anyone else writing about this!

Seems like a great incentive for parents to encourage exercise, especially for those parents who aren't focused enough on long-term health issues. Not having a moody kid is a great reason in the short term!