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Activity habits for children help them to process stress much more effectively as they grow older

Part 2 of Mark Davies series

“Humans are social mammals; we have evolved to socially bond together because it’s essential to our survival. Before it was hunting for food and protecting ourselves against wild animals. In the modern day, it’s about trusting, collaborative teams, because the world’s a very fiercely competitive dog-eat-dog environment. If you’re part of a successful team at work and you’re part of a strong family, you have certain protection from a dog-eat-dog world and achieving that is part of our ability to socially engage.

There’s a danger we’re creating adults who are less resilient as they burn-out at work, try to exercise when exhausted and who haven’t got the time for effective social engagement. They start to lose the valuable stress response they learned as children.

Frequently, adults can feel that if they trade a regular gym session as they see it, for a more playful session, that they’re not getting a “proper workout”. It’s also true that for some people, there’s an addiction to the need for the endorphin-effect. On the contrary: workouts that remain playful, work. When you’re at play, you are likely to generate a different hormone profile kicking in, which will include higher levels of oxytocin – the “love” or “trust molecule” as it is sometimes called. A lot has been written about oxytocin and it’s probably safe to conclude at this point, that when you feel happy, energised and open-hearted, your oxytocin levels will be higher. From a wellbeing perspective, this is likely to be better for you and more sustainable than seeking too many endorphin highs in single a week.


Activity habits for children


Playful exercise will generate similar cardiovascular benefits and is likely to be more functional than certain gym workouts with less risk of injury and greater benefits for flexibility, power and posture. Since it can be individual, team-based and competitive, there are endless opportunities to make it fun and engaging, but the latter two will help generate oxytocin, which everyone gets very excited about – literally. Oxytocin hormone supports social engagement, which in turn helps most people recover from stress without having to go into fight and flight. The same hormone is produced when you meet someone you like and feel safe with, and cuddle them [or not cuddle even!]. So we can access it without exercising, but it’s even better if we can get it with exercise. This may happen to some extent with some people in group classes at gyms anyway but maybe not as much if the exercise is more playful.

Research indicates that sports teams going into competitive situations generate more oxytocin: probably helping them to trust and bond with their team-mates in the face of competition. Other research shows oxytocin levels rising in playful group situations in both children and adults. So encouraging families and adults to exercise playfully together, even in competitive situations, may well cause oxytocin levels to rise and help support improved social engagement together, with all the emotional benefits and pleasure that comes from it, i.e. we can exercise in ways to support our social engagement system and improve our recovery from stress. The result of this is increased resilience: a great outcome at all ages. If playful by definition means more enjoyment, technologies that make exercise playful have got to be worth exploring.”


“If it becomes routine, it is not “play”.

  1. There are obvious benefits to exercise and movement
  2. It is obvious families spending time together has a positive impact on relationships
  3. The stronger your social engagement skills the better you attack stress and become more mentally resilient
  4. It is possible to use fitness for kids and for families to develop a child’s physical strength and mental resilience in the long-term
  5. To talk of exercise as play is not a throwaway comment and there are strategies available to access it more for grown adults as well as children
To find out more about Mark contact the team at 7Futures or visit