How Daily Exercise Can Help Heal Children and Teens With ACEs

How Daily Exercise Can Help Heal Children and Teens With ACEs

If exercise came in a bottle, it would be flying off the shelves.

Research suggests exercise lifts children’s spirits, improves bad moods and lowers their anxiety and risk of depression.

As an added bonus, exercise is great for their overall health. Studies show it’s linked to better achievement in school, lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and a stronger heart, lungs, and bones, according to federal health agencies.

For parents – including those of kids with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) — this is all good news.  Take a look at how exercise and physical activity helps traumatized children and teens.

For starters, exercise makes it easier for traumatized kids to deal with stress, according to Damion Grasso, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Connecticut. It does so, he writes, “by actually changing the body’s internal biology and chemistry.”

Exercise “decreases stress hormones in the body that are linked to the stress response,” Dr. Grasso writes in his recent manual on treating traumatic stress in children and teens. “It also increases chemicals in the body that make it feel good, called endorphins.” These, he adds, also boost your mood.

“Physical activity gives us more energy, helps to relax us, helps us sleep better, and lowers stress levels,” he says.

What parents can do

With your child, brainstorm a list of ways to get moving. Dr. Grasso suggests walking around the block, climbing a tree, hiking and running, rollerblading, skateboarding, team sports, or building something. A good snowball fight with Mom or Dad can work up a  sweat, too.

Brainstorm ways they can incorporate more exercise into their everyday life.  This could include everything from walking to school to walking the dog.

Explain the benefits of exercise.
Let your child know he’ll get stronger, feel happier and less stressed, and even concentrate better at school.

Don’t forget to join in.  Exercising and playing with your child is a great way to strengthen your relationship and lower your own stress. You’ll not only reap the benefits of exercise, you can have fun with your kids while doing it.

A buffer against daily stresses

Regular physical activity makes kids less reactive to stress, including memories of past trauma, writes Dr. Grasso. Plus, exercise makes you stronger, he notes, so you are better able to ride out everyday stresses.

“You don’t have to be a pro athlete to benefit,” he says. “Simply finding the time to walk on a daily basis can have huge benefits.”


Davis, J. (2018, January 5). Exercise Boosts Kids ‘ Brain Health, Too. HealthDay. Retrieved from

Grasso, Damion J. (2014). Clinical Exercises for Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents: Practical Guidance and Ready-To-Use Resources. London, UK/Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

Health.Gov.  (2019, January 28). Top 10 Things to Know About the Second Edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from