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10 October 2012
Exercise is vital at any time of life. It is exercise that develops a child’s body and helps it acquire healthy bones and muscles. As you age exercise also becomes important and there is evidence that people who engage in aerobic and anaerobic exercise age better and at a slower rate than people who do not. Exercise is also important for the teenager and new research has shown how it has benefits for the teenage mind as well as the body.
The link between exercising and mental health is well established but the aim of these researchers was to see how that link worked.
To this end they gathered data on 7,000 participants aged 11 to 16. The subjects filled in a questionnaire that assessed their mental health, physical activity habits, their perception of their body weight, and their involvement in organised sports. The researchers also collected information on socioeconomic status, whether the subject lived with their parents, and whether they lived in an urban or rural area.
The results showed that the teens who did the least exercise and saw themselves as either too thin or too fat were the most likely to develop anxiety or depression. They were also the most likely to become involved in substance abuse or to become aggressive. It also emerged that those involved in organised sports were the least likely to experience mental problems.
The questionnaires revealed that there are two fundamental reasons underlying these results.
Firstly, exercise improves body structure leading to positive comments from peers and improved self-image. Secondly, exercise also involves social interaction, team spirit, and mutual support among team members.
On top of these psychosocial factors exercise also causes the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that change brain structure and function to reduce mental health issues.
As obesity and depression spiral out of control these results would underline the simple fact that policy makers around the world would do well to make giving people the opportunity to exercise a fundamental priority.