Playtime and physical activity can improve yours and your children's mental health

Physical activity has been proven to relieve stress, improve memory, boost your overall mood and also treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety. For Mental Health Awareness Month, local dad and middle school teacher Mike Lerchenfeldt shares how he gets to spend more time with his family while fostering a healthy lifestyle by prioritizing playtime. 

By Mike Lerchenfeldt
Meant to Live Contributor

Exhausted. Tired. House is a mess after our kids pull out every toy that we own.

Kids are a tornado that can hit at any moment without notice. Not only do they destroy our house, but they suck up all our energy and time. Of course, we still love them, right?

This is our crazy, fun, yet exhausting, life.

After we have taken care of our kids, we must find time to take care of ourselves. When we barely have time to see friends, read, or watch Netflix, we must try to squeeze in a workout – usually at the end of a full workday, which includes grading papers, working on lesson plans, and having virtual meetings with parents or students in addition to meal preparation and household chores. Not to mention our favorite activity, which is playing with our kids.

This is the lesson that I have learned through being a parent over the past five years: It is all about PLAY! I want to live a long, healthy and fun-filled life with my children. For this reason, I have learned how to incorporate play time into my fitness routine. Utilizing fitness trackers and home workout apps, my family is heading in a healthy direction.

When we are playing on the floor or wrestling with the kids, we are doing a workout alongside them, including variations of burpees, push-ups, planks or squats. The kids see these activities and want to be a part of them.

Mystery workouts can be exciting, as well. Try using workout dice specifically designed for young children, which can offer numerous combinations of activities that will get everyone moving and improve balance, flexibility and motor skills. Our daughter will enthusiastically do jumping jacks now. Our son is the perfect size for a kettlebell when we are doing squats.

As a family, we enjoy going on walks, hikes, jogs and runs outside with our dog. For winter, we bundle up with snow pants and other waterproof gear to stay warm. We go for a Christmas light viewing walk in our subdivision. Our 5-year-old daughter has become one of my favorite running partners. While she can’t necessarily run long distances, she loves to sprint with me back and forth throughout our yard.

If sprinting doesn’t sound fun, try going on a walk or jog while your little one rides a bike or scooter. We listen to music, sing and have an amazing time together. Sometimes we will stop in the grass to do yoga stretches. She always tells me, “We have some fun, Daddy.”

Not only are we having fun together, but we are developing our relationship with healthy activities. Overall, when we are outside, we are calm and happy.

Gardening outside with family can also be a form of exercise and meditation that has a positive effect on our mental health. Physical activity decreases cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases endorphins. Unfortunately, the Detroit Metropolitan Area is often ranked as one of the unhealthiest places in the United States. Studies show that exercise not only improves our physical health, but it can also help our mental health.

I believe in the magic of working out. It is my meditation. It is when I take deep breathes while slowing down my thoughts. It relieves my stress and nurtures my soul. It is when I think about what I am thankful for. It helps me feel better physically and mentally. I want to pass this passion on to my kids.

We need to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally. One way we can combat anxiety, depression, and suicide are with fitness. Exercise – and play – is such a good tool not only for our physical health, but for nurturing our mental health and family relationships as well. We show our kids how and why it is important to brush our teeth. Why not show them the importance of physical activity?


Mike Lerchenfeldt is a freelance writer from Detroit. This Dad of two likes exploring places and supporting local businesses. Through teacher exchanges, he has traveled to Japan and New Zealand.

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