When it comes to kids and stress, exercise may be just what the doctor ordered. Physical activity is a great way for children to manage stress and to ease feelings of anxiety and depression. It can even change brain architecture for the better. Researchers suggests that exercise may fight depression partly by expanding brain volume in an area of the brain associated with memory, learning and emotion.

Exercise can also fight the effects of toxic stress. It reduces the risk of obesity and other stress-related health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. At a time when one in six kids in the country is obese, lowering that risk is more important than ever.

In addition, daily physical activity can help counteract some of the key impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). For kids, regular workouts can reduce stress hormones, improve behavior and concentration in school and strengthen the immune system. Physical activity also promotes nerve growth in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and thinking.

As a parent, you can help your children reap all these benefits for free — simply by having some active fun with them. Besides enjoying the same benefits, you’ll create a more powerful bond with your kids. Whether you’re playing tag or tossing a ball, playing together creates its own magic.

Keep in mind: If your kid is over-stressed and amped up, you can help them cool down with movement. Try “shaking out” some big feelings. Or striking a yoga pose together.

Here are some tips for boosting your family’s activity level:

Turn off the screens

Before you can make exercise a regular part of your family life, you’ll have to encourage everyone to break away from their screens. Ideally, kids should only look at screens on phones, televisions and other devices for an hour or less every day. Discourage any screen time for children under 18 months old, unless they’re video chatting with the grandparents. Children 18–24 months old should not watch screens by themselves.

 

Plan ahead for play

If exercise isn’t a priority, it won’t happen. Play tag, soccer, go to the park or shoot hoops in the backyard together – kids need at least an hour of moderate to vigorous play daily.

 

Provide active toys

Think balls, jump ropes, and hula hoops. Keep an eye out for used bikes, tricycles, and ride-on toys. Just having these things around can help you and your child sneak in active time. Ask a specialist at the national organization HealthySteps for a list of nearby community parks and other resources that support active play.

 

Schedule regular nature outings

It’s beautiful. It’s relaxing. And spending time in nature on weekends and after school seems to be “widely effective” in lowering symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

 

Freeze dance

If it’s pouring outside or your neighborhood isn’t safe for play, try doing a Freeze Dance with the kids: Have everyone dance to some of their favorite songs until the “DJ” turns off the music. The person who freezes last loses that round. If the kids get tired of freezing, practice some new dance moves together.

 

Play balloon games

Push chairs out of the way and see who can keep the balloon up in the air the longest — or tie a string across the room and play Balloon Volleyball. If you have small children, supervise balloon play and be sure to store them out of reach after you’re through (balloons are a choking hazard for little ones).

 

Practice jump ropes.

The cool thing about jump ropes is that you can twirl them inside or out. Try teaching your kids some of your favorite chants – you’ll feel like a kid, and so will they.