July 11, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team
In This Article
In an era where the demands of modern life can be overwhelming, maintaining good physical and mental health has become increasingly crucial. It is well-established that exercise and a healthy diet are essential for overall well-being, but recent research suggests that their impact reaches far beyond just physical fitness.
In fact, engaging in regular exercise and adopting a nutritious diet during childhood plays a pivotal role in the development for mental health for kids. It not only promotes optimal growth and development but also contributes to bigger brains and lower levels of anxiety in adulthood.
Why diet and exercise are important?
According to new UC Riverside research conducted revealed that exercise and a healthy diet in childhood lead to bigger brains and lower levels of anxiety in adults. Diet and exercise are always recommended for better health, this study is the first of its kind that examined the long-lasting, and combined effects of both; diet and exercise, when they are experienced early in life.
A study was led by UCR physiology doctoral student Marcell Cadney. According to Cadney, “Any time you go to the doctor with concerns about your weight, almost without fail, they recommend you exercise and eat less. That is why it is surprising most studies only look at diet or exercise separately. In this study, we wanted to include both.”
Exercise and its effect on mental health for kids
The researchers also analysed that exercise in early life brought down anxious behaviours in adults. It also led to an increase in adult muscle and brain mass. When kids were fed “Western” style diets that were high in fat and sugar, they not only became fatter but also grew into adults that preferred unhealthy foods.
These findings have been published in the journal Physiology and Behavior. To obtain them, the researchers divided the kids into four groups; the ones with access to exercise, those without access, those fed a standard, healthy diet, and those who ate a Western diet.
When to start diet and exercise for mental health development?
Kids started on their diets immediately after weaning and continued for three weeks until they reached sexual maturity. After an additional eight weeks of “washout,” during which all kids were housed without wheels and on a healthy diet, the researchers did behavioural analysis, and measured aerobic capacity, and levels of several different hormones.
One of those they measured, leptin, is produced by fat cells. It helps control body weight by increasing energy expenditure and signalling that less food is required. Early-life exercise increased adult leptin levels as well as fat mass in adults, regardless of the diet they ate.
How fat and sugar altered the mental health and physical health in kids
In previous studies, the research team found that eating too much fat and sugar as a child can alter the microbiome for life, even if they eat healthier later.
Going forward, the team plans to investigate whether fat or sugar is more responsible for the negative effects they measured in Western-diet-fed children. Together, both studies offer critical opportunities for health interventions in childhood habits and in determining the overall physical and mental health for kids.
UCR evolutionary physiologist Theodore Garland says, “Our findings may be relevant for understanding the potential effects of activity reductions and dietary changes associated with obesity.” In other words, getting a jump start on health in the early years of life is extremely important, and interventions may be even more critical in the wake of the pandemic.
Cadney added, “During the COVID-19 lockdowns, particularly in the early months, kids got very little exercise. For many without access to a park or a backyard, school was their only source of physical activity. It is important we find solutions for these kids, possibly including extra attention as they grow into adults.”
Given that exercise helps to bring down adult anxiety, Cadney is of the opinion that children who have anxiety challenges may face unique physical and mental health issues as they become adults in the coming decade.
Materials provided by University of California – Riverside. Original written by Jules Bernstein. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Marcell D. Cadney, Layla Hiramatsu, Zoe Thompson, Meng Zhao, Jarren C. Kay, Jennifer M. Singleton, Ralph Lacerda de Albuquerque, Margaret P. Schmill, Wendy Saltzman, Theodore Garland. Effects of early-life exposure to Western diet and voluntary exercise on adult activity levels, exercise physiology, and associated traits in selectively bred High Runner mice. Physiology & Behavior, 2021; 234: 113389 DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2021.113389
University of California – Riverside. “Childhood diet and exercise creates healthier, less anxious adults: Study in mice shows lasting effects of early-life habits.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 April 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/04/210409093604.htm>.
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