June 16, 2024

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New Study Finds Physical Fitness Can Improve Mental Health in Children and Young Adults

3 min read

Researchers in Taiwan tracked children’s performance in sporting activities like running, sit-ups and jumping to study how it impacted their mental health diagnoses over time

<p>FatCamera/Getty</p> A stock image of children running<p>FatCamera/Getty</p> A stock image of children running


A stock image of children running

A new study out of Taiwan has found that children and adolescents who are more physically active have lower rates of mental health disorders.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, April 29, used anonymous data from the Taiwan National Student Fitness Tests, which measures students’ physical fitness activities in school, and compared it with the National Insurance Research Databases, which compiles information about patients’ diagnosis and other medical information.

Using data spanning back to 2009 and ending in 2019, researchers studied the data of students aged 10 to 11 years old, following up for at least 3 years to see the progression of their physical fitness in school compared to their mental health diagnosis, especially concerning anxiety disorders, depressive disorders and ADHD/ADD.

The study split the types of physical fitness into several groups, These included cardio fitness, which was measured by each student’s performance in an 800-meter (about one mile) run, muscular endurance, measured by how many sit-ups a student could do, muscular power, measured by how far each student’s standing jump was, and flexibility, measured by a sit-and-reach test.

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A decreased risk of mental health was linked to better performance in each one of the types of fitness, the study found. Cardio fitness — marked by a 30-second faster half-mile — was associated with lower risks of anxiety, depression and ADHD in female students, and lower risks of anxiety and ADHD in male students.

Better muscular endurance, quantified by the study as 5 more sit-ups per minute, was linked to a lower risk of depression and ADHD in girls as well as lower anxiety and ADHD risks in boys. Better muscular performance, meaning almost 8-inch longer standing jumps was associated with lower risks of anxiety and ADHD in girls and reduced anxiety, depression and ADHD in boys.

Researchers also found better performance in each of the fitness activities could be “dose-dependent,” meaning that fitness could serve as a preventative measure for mental health disorders.

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“This study highlights the potential protective role of cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular endurance and muscular power in preventing the onset of mental disorders,” researchers wrote in the study.

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Exercise and mental health and long been linked by scientists, with many experts advocating for kids to become physically active in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Physical activity has a small but significant effect on the mental health of children and adolescents ages 6 to 18,” the American Psychological Association wrote in April 2020, citing other research that also linked children’s long-term mental health to exercise.

“The finding underscores the need for further research into targeted physical fitness programs,” the study’s authors wrote, noting that these programs could “hold significant potential as primary preventative interventions against mental disorders in children and adolescents.”

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