Exercise link to reduced depression, anxiety and substance abuse in young

Bullying can cause severe mental health problems for victims. It is a growing public health concern and its consequences affect people throughout their lives. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to bullying, and the effects can be extremely detrimental. Bullying is associated with low self-esteem, depression, substance abuse, academic struggle and self-harm.

A new study has reinforced the link between exercise and mental health. The study reported the positive effects of regular physical activity on mental health, citing a reduction in depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

A group of researchers from the University of Vermont in the US used data from a nationally representative sample of adolescents, who participated in the National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey, to examine the relationship between exercise frequency, feelings of sadness, and suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) and attempt in 13,583 American teenagers in years 9 to 12.

The results of the study reported a significant percentage of young people who experienced sadness and depression, as well as suicidal ideation. 30 per cent of students in the study recounted feelings of sadness for two or more weeks over the previous year, while more than 22 per cent reported suicidal ideation and 8.2 per cent reported actual suicide attempts. It was also found that bullied students were twice as likely to feel sad, and three times more likely to report suicidal ideation or attempt compared to students who were not victims of bullying.

The study concluded that regular physical activity, on a minimum of four days per week, resulted in a significant reduction in sadness, suicidal ideation and suicidal attempt in all students. The findings showed an astounding 23 per cent reduction in both suicidal ideation and attempt in bullied students who exercised at least four times a week.

These findings are particularly important as they come at a time when many secondary schools are reducing physical education and athletic programs in order to create more time for academic study. In the United States the percentage of schools offering physical education on a daily basis or at least three times a week has declined considerably over the past decade. This trend is also apparent in Australia.

According to this study, exercise represents a safe, economical, and highly effective option to combat bullying in schools. Doctor Jeremy Sibold, of the University of Vermont, explained that it is frustrating that exercise is not encouraged more in schools. If exercise reduces feelings of sadness, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts it should not be excluded from the school curriculum. It is imperative that more schools adopt an active and engaged approach to physical education in order to reduce suicidal behaviour in adolescents.

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Source: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry