How Fitness is Improving the Mental Health of Children at One Cleveland Gym

November 28, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Courtesy of GrooveRyde
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It’s well-known that there’s a link between fitness and improved mental health. Jacqui Lingler, a CrossFit and yoga certified instructor at GrooveRyde in Cleveland, is putting this knowledge to work, using a kids fitness class to get children dealing with symptoms of anxiety and depression moving. 

The big picture: The pandemic has been called the “tip of the iceberg” for the state of mental health in children today. Social restrictions connected to COVID-19 measures have kept children away from routines of friends, families, and classrooms – things that are integral in development.

  • “When kids are in a more virtual environment, it’s a disservice… not being able to have these formative, developmental years to work through these things,” says Lingler, who has a history working in the research side of child and adolescent psychiatry.
  • Plus, just being challenged and learning how to not only be successful but how to fail and work through that. Failures are just as important as successes,” she continues. “You can get that academically, virtually, but it’s harder… interpersonally and learning how to communicate with peers.”

How fitness is changing the game: Dr. Nora McNamara, a child psychiatrist at University Hospitals in Cleveland, will sometimes prescribe Lingler’s class to patients struggling with depression, anxiety, or symptoms. 

  • “What we’ve come to find out is that often, it’s not just medication or therapy as the comprehensive line of treatment for kids, especially for depression and anxiety,” Lingler says. 
  • There are other behavioral things, like getting in movement and fitness in an environment that is supportive and safe so that kids can begin to understand that they can be successful when challenged, that it’s good to move. It’s not just a physical benefit. It’s a mental health benefit of introducing fitness into the holistic treatment of a child,” she explains. 

Children prescribed and interested in the fitness class are welcomed into Lingler’s class, where she makes fitness fun, teaching kids to move functionally, meet their challenges head-on, and helping pull them out of a pandemic funk. 

  • Because of the fundamentals of CrossFit, that it’s constantly varied, and that it can be modified for any physical body – any person, any age – it’s a low-hanging fruit,” Lingler says. “As a CrossFit-certified coach, you are trained to have tools in your back pocket to meet the kid, athlete, or class where they are.”
  • In other things, like soccer or baseball, you have an ultimate goal, or you’re learning a skill that is specific to the sport – CrossFit spans so many different things.”

The bottom line: Fitness is working. Lingler says while there’s been an increase of kids coming to her classes in the past 18 months – attributed partly to the fact that gyms reopened before organized sports and classrooms – she’s seeing improvements. 

  • We hear that a kid’s sleep is better, or their mood is better improved,” Lingler says. “I like it when I see the kids come at first, and they’re kind of reluctant and a little unsure and then, as they come, they’re excited about coming.
  • She adds: “The biggest litmus test to me is when the kids start inviting their friends or siblings to come. That’s the real message. They’re telling others they like it and getting excited about it.”

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