How much better can exercise make you feel?
A new study suggests that the mood boost may be profound.
The nitty gritty of the study is that researchers at the University of Vermont report a 23 percent reduction in both suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among bullied students who exercise four or more days a week. The analysis of national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that across the board, frequent exercise was associated with improved mood for adolescents, both bullied and not.
It’s important to note that the study shows an association only between exercise and improved mental health. Still, lead author Jeremy Sibold, an associate professor at the University of Vermont, and chairman of its Department of Rehabilitation and Movement Science, says this is an important first step. It…”shows a critical relationship between exercise and mental health in bullied adolescents,” he says. “These data do not prove that exercise will reduce sadness or suicidality, but certainly support more research in this area.”
The study, published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, concludes:
Physical activity is inversely related to sadness and suicidality in adolescents, highlighting the relationship between physical activity and mental health in children, and potentially implicating physical activity as a salient option in the response to bullying in schools.
An accompanying editorial, by Dr. Bradley D. Stein and Tamara Dubowitz of The Rand Corporation in Pittsburgh, says,
“…the evolving literature suggests that physical activity interventions appear to be potentially promising as preventive interventions for some children and adolescents at risk for developing mental health disorders and for augmenting more traditional interventions for children and adolescents being treated for depressive and anxiety disorders and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
The “side effects” of such physical activity interventions are likely to be more positive for many children than those of many other therapeutic interventions and potentially less costly…”
I asked Sibold a few questions about the study. Here, via email, are his answers:
RZ: What’s the biggest surprise in the findings?
JS: We were not surprised really that exercise was associated with less sadness, etc., as exercise has been widely reported to have robust positive effects on a range of mental health markers.
However, our statistics were quite rigorous, and to see the positive associations extend to victims of bullying, including those who report suicidal behavior, was certainly a pleasant surprise and a first in the field we believe. It is also quite concerning that 25 percent of students overall report being bullied in the last year. This is a concern we cannot ignore in our schools. Continue reading