Move Better, Feel Better: How Exercise and Team Play Improve Student Emotional Regulation


This week we’re exploring the link between exercise, team play, and emotional regulation. We will explain the science behind these activities and how they affect child development and learning and hope to convey the extraordinary benefits that these activities can bring to your students!

The Self-Regulatory Benefits of Exercise

Exercise can improve children’s self-regulation skills, which are essential for learning and behavior. Self-regulation is the ability to control one’s attention, impulses, and emotions in order to achieve a goal or complete a task.

Exercise can enhance self-regulation skills by stimulating brain development and function. According to some studies, exercise can increase the number of brain cells and connections in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for memory, learning, and executive function. Exercise can also increase the number of astrocytes, which are the cells that support and nourish the brain cells.

To help your students reap the self-regulatory benefits of exercise, you can incorporate some physical activities into their daily routine, such as 1-minute bursts of intense exercise, 5-minute brain breaks, or structured recess and after-school services provided by Assist.

How Exercise Can Reduce Stress and Enhance Mood

Unfortunately, stress is a common problem for children trying to navigate modern education, home life, and technology. The ongoing effects of distance learning are becoming apparent.

Exercise can help alleviate stress by quieting the brain regions that are related to anxiety and fear and by activating the endocannabinoid system, which regulates mood, pain, appetite, and memory. Exercise can also enhance mood by releasing neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, which create a sense of pleasure, satisfaction, and well-being.

To help your students reduce stress and enhance mood with exercise, you can encourage them to do some physical activities that they enjoy and find fun, such as sports, dancing to their favorite music, or organized group games.

How Team-Based Play Enhances EQ

Team-based play can also help your students learn to recognize and respond to the emotions of their peers. For example, when a teammate is frustrated or disappointed, students can offer support or encouragement. When a teammate is happy or excited, students can celebrate or congratulate. By doing so, students can enhance their emotional intelligence and build positive relationships. At Assist, we embrace team-based play and active coaching as SEL in action.

After exercise and team play, your students are feeling energized, calm, and are better able to self-monitor and navigate their social-emotional world. Now what?

The Feelings Wheel

The feelings wheel is a tool that helps children identify and express their emotions in a healthy way. Emotions are not good or bad, right or wrong, they are just signals that tell us how we feel and what we need.

However, sometimes children may have difficulty recognizing or naming their emotions. They may also have trouble communicating their emotions appropriately and respectfully. This can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, or emotional distress.

From a calm and controlled place, students can learn to identify their emotions objectively.

The feelings wheel can help children overcome these challenges by providing them with a visual guide to their emotions. To use the feelings wheel, you can ask your students to think of a situation or event that made them feel a certain way, look at the feelings wheel and find the word that best describes their emotion, share their emotion with you or with their peers using an “I” statement, listen and respond to the emotions of others using empathy and respect.

You can use the feelings wheel as a regular practice in your classrooms or as a tool for conflict resolution or emotional support. You can also use it as a prompt for writing or drawing activities.

If you’d like to learn more about supporting your students with a structured recess and sports-based, SEL informed after-school program, reach out to us for a free 15-minute consultation.