Research findings show that regular physical activity improves adolescent mental health and helps with behavioral problems. The study found that regular participation in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at age 11 was associated with improved mental health between ages 11 and 13.
Physical activity was also associated with reduced hyperactivity and behavioral problems in youth, which included stealing, lying, fighting with other children, and losing tempers.
Data were analyzed from the Children of the 90s Study. The physical activity of 4755 11-year-old children was measured using devices.
The devices measured moderate physical activity levels, usually defined as cycling or brisk walking, in addition to vigorous activities that increase breathing and heart rate, which included swimming, jogging and aerobic dance.
Levels of depressive symptoms reported by youth and their parents between 11 and 13 years of age. The participants’ teachers and parents were also interviewed about the youth’s general behavior and emotional problems.
Factors including socio-economic status, gender and age were also taken into account when analyzing the effects of moderate to vigorous exercise on mental health and behavior in young people.
Higher levels of moderate or vigorous physical activity were found to be associated with a small but significant reduction in emotional problems and depressive symptoms.
Regular exercise had a small but significant association with behavioral problems, even after other possible factors were taken into account.
The results suggest that regular moderate to vigorous physical activity may have a small protective effect on early adolescent mental health.
This study adds to the growing evidence of how important physical activity is for all aspects of development in young individuals. It can help them do better in school and feel better about themselves. Supporting young people to live healthy active lives should be a priority.
While it may seem obvious that mental health is improved by physical activity, there is little evidence of such a benefit in young people and children, so the research findings are significant. The results are also significant because less than a third of adolescents worldwide achieve the WHO-recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity per day.
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