Happiness in the home doesn’t come without effort. When kids struggle with strong emotions like anger or boredom, which could take place due to sibling rivalry a healthy outlet is needed! Instead of sending them outside to play as a consequence, consider teaching your children the science behind the exercise-happiness link as a fun way to encourage a healthy family lifestyle.
Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are the fabulous foursome linked to our happiness. These brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) are responsible for relaying information throughout our brain and body, commanding the heart to pump, lungs to breathe, and stomach to digest, etc. When they are out of balance, they can adversely affect mood, sleep, concentration, and weight.
- Dopamine: sometimes called “the chemical of reward”, dopamine propels us to achieve goals and exudes a sense of satisfaction with our accomplishments. Low levels of dopamine are linked to chronic boredom, fatigue and even depression.
- Serotonin: this one is probably best known for its happiness effect. Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. You can boost your levels by exercise, exposure to sunlight, and meditation.
- Oxytocin: often referred to as “the cuddle hormone”, this chemical is essential for building trust, and healthy relationships. Positive social interactions and physical touch can boost your levels and improve relationships (a win for cuddles and hugs!)
- Endorphins: these are released to alleviate pain and stress. In fitness, they manifest when your body gets it “second wind” or “runner’s high.” Aside from exercise, laughing is the best endorphin inducer.
Applying What You Learn
When children complain about boredom, when they’re struggling with emotions or letting go of screen-time, remind them about their brain-body-happiness connection. Decide as a family to do something.
- Rewards: dopamine spikes as goals are met. Set a goal for a family run, aiming for longer distance or better speed, and at the end grab frozen yogurt or donuts as a prize!
- Outdoor activity: get out in the sun to lift serotonin! Play a game of catch, go swimming, skating, hiking, climbing or simply take the dog for a walk – all can quickly improve mood.
- Socialize: jumpstart oxytocin by engaging in a workout play date. Invite friends over to play anything you’re equipped for: basketball, soccer, jumping rope, hopscotch, or anything physical!
- Encourage laughter: do something as family that is silly and stimulating to release endorphins. Our family loves to have dance-offs on our favorite home treadmill with the speed on low but you can get creative! Do yoga in superhero costumes or have a water balloon or snowball fight.
Whatever you decide to do as a family, the lasting effects will be linking in their mind a connection between happy feelings and exercise, give them an outlet for strong emotions and many great memories of times spent together as a family.