Study Shows Physical Fitness Shields Kids from Mental Health Issues

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According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, fitness among children and adolescents might protect them against depressive symptoms. This study found that better performance in cardiovascular activities, strength and muscular endurance are associated with protection against severe mental health conditions. The research says that ‘dose dependant’ suggests that a more fit child might be less likely to experience the onset of a mental health disorder. 

These findings come amid a surge of mental health diagnoses among children and adolescents, in the United States and abroad, that have prompted efforts to understand and curb the problem. 

This study analyzed data and found that the risk of mental health disorder weighted against three metrics for physical fitness: cardio fitness, as measured by a student’s time in an 800-meter run; muscle endurance, indicated by the number of situps performed; and muscle power, measured by the standing broad jump. 

Improved performance in each activity was linked with a lower risk of mental health disorders. For instance, a 30-second decrease in 800-meter time was associated, in girls, with a lower risk of anxiety, depression and A.D.H.D. In boys, it was associated with lower anxiety and risk of the disorder. 

An increase of five sit-ups per minute was associated with lower anxiety and risk of the disorder in boys, and with decreased risk of depression and anxiety in girls. The findings suggest that muscular fitness as protective factor in mitigating the onset of mental health disorders among children. 

Physical and mental health were already assumed to be linked, they added, but previous research had relied largely on questionnaires and self-reports, whereas the new study drew from independent assessments and objective standards. 

Some policymakers say that the heavy use of social media affects the mental health of children by disrupting sleep, exercise and in-person activity which are considered important for healthy development. 

Journal Reference – Huey-Ling Chiang, M. (2024). Physical Fitness and Risk of Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents.

Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2818132 


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