Regular exercise improves mental health in pre-teen years

Regular exercise improves mental health in pre-teen years
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Research suggests regular exercise can improve adolescents’ mental health and help with behavioural difficulties.

A study by The University of Edinburgh has found that engaging in regular exercise at age 11 was associated with better mental health between the ages of 11 and 13. This physical activity was also associated with reduced hyperactivity and behavioural problems, such as loss of temper, fighting with other children, lying and stealing.

Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Strathclyde, Bristol, and Georgia in the United States worked together to explore data from the Children of the 90s study (also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children; ALSPAC).

The study is published in Mental Health and Physical Activity.

Analysing data from 4,755 young people

The research team analysed data tracked by devices that recorded levels of moderate regular exercise which was defined by brisk walking or cycling, and vigorous activity, which boosts heart rate and breathing, such as aerobic dancing, jogging or swimming. They looked at the levels of regular exercise of 4,755 11-year-olds using tracking devices.

The young people and their parents reported their levels of depressive symptoms from age 11 to 13. The participants’ parents and teachers were also quizzed about the young people’s general behaviour and emotional difficulties.

The team also considered factors to understand the impact of regular exercises, such as age, sex and socio-economic status.

Regular exercise decreases depressive symptoms

The researchers found that high levels of moderate or intense regular exercise had a small but detectable association with decreases in depressive symptoms and emotional difficulties.

Regular exercise also had a small association with reduced behavioural problems, even whilst controlling for other possible influences. Both these findings suggest that regular moderate and intense physical activity may have a small protective influence on mental health in early adolescence.

“This study adds to the increasing evidence base about how important physical activity is for all aspects of young people’s development – it can help them feel better and do better at school. Supporting young people to lead healthy active lives should be prioritised,” commented Dr Josie Booth, Moray House School of Education and Sport.

“While it might seem obvious that physical activity improves mental health, the evidence for such a benefit in children and young people has been scarce, so the study findings are important. The findings are also important because levels of moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity are so low in pre-teens globally – less than a third achieve the 60 minutes per day recommended by the WHO and UK Health Departments,” added Professor John Reilly, University of Strathclyde.

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