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Exercise as a central component of treatment has taken many forms in NWP programs over the past 30+ years, from formalized vigorous multi-week training programs preparing residents for wilderness adventures to 2-minute “move and shake” sessions in the classrooms. There is a large body of evidence that points to the benefits of exercise and movement in the promotion of both mental health and cognition. At NWP we will strive to stay abreast of the rapidly changing field of movement and exercise as they apply to total brain and body health.

It’s a Brain Changer

Morning Exercise = Mental Health

Exercise and Mental Health

Your Brain on Exercise!

“A healthy understanding of the role that movement plays in our day to day lives is critical to sustaining positive mental health. Exercise comes in many forms.”


The PassageWay is grounded in solid research. If you’re interested in learning more about the background of our approach, please dive in and investigate some of the resources we’ve used in developing our guiding principals.


A powerful article concerning the impact of exercise by Douglas Noordsy, a medical doctor who also serves as an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. His arguments include:

  • Exercise has been linked to improved self-esteem, energy, concentration, and sleep–all of which can be impaired by psychiatric disorders.
  • Individuals with psychiatric disorders may benefit from establishing an exercise regime as part of their care.
  • Healthcare professionals should provide specifics regarding the type of exercise, duration, frequency, and intensity appropriate for the patient’s disorder.

This article, by Jae Won Choi et al. engages the potential relationship between exercise and ADHD. The article can be found here: Aerobic Exercise and ADHD

  • Within respective studies, aerobic exercise increased the effectiveness of methylphenidate in reducing clinical symptoms [of ADHD] and perseverative errors as well as in increasing brain activity within the right frontal cortex.
  • Aerobic exercise may improve the speed of attention processing in the temporal lobe in response to working memory task (WCST) in adolescents with ADHD.
  • Exercise can have other impacts, including to induce dopamine release in patients with Parkinson disease.

Here are some highlights from a blog posting that we really liked by Jodi Helmer, “Could a Daily Walk Ease Depression?” It provides a nice summary of some of the research that has been done on exercise and mental health:

  • In comparing mood problems between two groups of adults, those who got no exercise at all were 44% more apt to be diagnosed with depression than those who exercised at least one hour per week.
  • Adults who engage in aerobic exercise show mood improvements similar to depressed adults who took Zoloft.
  • A significant number of adults who did not benefit from antidepressants had their depression go into remission after participating in an exercise program for 12 weeks.
  • Quality of life factors that improved in women with mild depression who engaged in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 200 minutes of walking per week included increased energy, improved social engagement, and better physical functioning.

“Children acquire knowledge by acting and then reflecting on their experiences, but such opportunities are increasingly rare in school.” The full article can be found here: Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement

Experiential learning is a rich way to collect information and act out their lessons. It capitalizes on the full spectrum of imagination, reflection, experience while allowing kids to shift between “roles and perspectives, between modes of thinking and tinkering.”

  • Self-directed learning is important and occurring at lower rates than in the past
  • Research has shown time and again that children need opportunities to move in class.
  • Memory and movement are linked, and the body is a tool of learning, not a roadblock to or a detour away from it.

This article, by Charles H. Hillman et al. discusses the impact of exercise on a child’s mental development and can be found here: Effects of the FITkids Trial

  • An active lifestyle during childhood may have protective effects on brain health across the lifespan, as is key for physical health.
  • Participating in a daily, after school PA [physical activity] program enhances executive [cognitive] control.
  •  Children receiving a PA intervention improved performance on a flanker task and showed anterior frontal brain patterns and incongruent task performance similar to that of college-aged adults after the intervention.
  • Policies that reduce or replace PA opportunities during the school day (e.g. recess), in an attempt to increase academic achievement, may have unintended effects.
  • Given that scholastic success in reading and mathematics is heavily reliant upon effective executive control, [the] findings have broad relevance for public health, the educational environment, and the context of learning.

Published by the Institute of Medicine, this article (Educating the Student Body) addresses the growing concern of removing children from physical activity, including:

  • Estimates show that only about half of youth meet the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans‘ recommendation of at least 60 minutes of daily vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity.
  • Extensive scientific evidence demonstrates that regular physical activity promotes growth and development in youth and has multiple benefits for physical, mental, and cognitive health.
  • Children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.
  • Schools traditionally have used physical education as their primary means of promoting physical activity. But they face challenges in continuing to deliver it both equitably and effectively.

Written by Lauren B. Raine et al of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, this article addresses the mental impact of physical exercise, and can be found here: The Influence of Childhood Aerobic Fitness

  • In children, lower amounts of fitness have been related to decreased cognitive function for tasks requiring perception, memory, and cognitive control as well as lower academic achievement.
  • During an encoding task, higher fit children utilize more successful encoding and recall strategies, suggesting that higher fit children may have stronger cognitive control abilities and may use memory more efficiently.
  • Fitness differences interacted with initial learning strategy, with higher fit children outperforming lower fit children in recall of the [pretend, mapped] regions learned using the study only condition, while higher and lower fit children performed similarly in recall of the regions learned using the test-study condition.

A Yale University news release which can be found here: Students’ Health Habits

  • Students with environments that supported their physical health were more likely to reach their target scores in reading, writing and math.
  • They were more than twice as likely to achieve this academic success than students whose environments supported their health the least.
  • Health factors that were linked to improved test scores included:
    • Not having a television in the bedroom
    • Maintaining a healthy weight
    • Being physically fit
    • Having access to healthy foods
    • Rarely eating fast food
    • Not drinking sugary drinks, such as soda
    • Getting enough sleep
  • “One way to reduce disparities and close the equity gaps in health and education is to coordinate community and family-based efforts with comprehensive school-based approaches.”

Are you looking for something to do? Do you want ideas for a family outing? Check out the following website for an enormous list of amazing activities and fun ideas!

Recreation Therapy

IT’S ALL CONNECTED… The individual elements of the PassageWay are deeply ingrained with one another. Look below for some of our favorite stories about the exercise programs at NWP.

Winter Games Come to Passage!

Winter Games Come to Passage!

The spirit of the Olympics spread throughout the building as a part of a staff-initiated effort! Walking through the halls of Prairieview and Assessment the last few weekends you’d have heard a lot more laughter and bustle coming from the units. Kids and...

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New Wellness Center

New Wellness Center

Northwest Passage is celebrating its increased capacity for serving children and families at its Frederic location this week with an Open House….

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New Research Supports Efforts at Passage

New Research Supports Efforts at Passage

BEHAVIORAL THERAPY PAIRED WITH PSYCHOTHERAPY REDUCES SELF-HARM We see evidence of the power of residential treatment paired with living a therapeutic lifestyle in our clients progress towards mental health up close and personal, but it is always nice to read research...

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