Move Your Body, Boost Your Mood: How Fitness Can Be Your Mental Health Ally


We all know that exercise is good for our physical health. It strengthens our bodies, improves cardiovascular health, and helps us manage weight. But did you know that fitness can also be a powerful tool for boosting your mental well-being?

The benefits of physical activity extend beyond adults. A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that better physical fitness in children and adolescents may protect against developing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

This is especially important considering the rise of mental health concerns among young people. Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, has called adolescent mental health "the defining public health crisis of our time." Statistics show alarming trends, with rising rates of suicide and self-harm among youth. From 2001 to 2019, the suicide rate for Americans ages 10 to 19 rose 40 percent, and emergency visits related to self-harm rose 88 percent.

Some experts believe the rise of social media use may be contributing to these concerns. They theorize that excessive screen time displaces activities crucial for young people's well-being, such as sleep, exercise, and face-to-face interaction.

In the recently published article in JAMA the researchers did a large study in Taiwan that was a nationwide cohort study, encompassing 1.9 million participants. It revealed that children and adolescents in better-performing fitness quantiles exhibited lower cumulative incidences of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and ADHD. The researchers looked at performance of 3 simple tests to study cardiovascular fitness (CF), muscular endurance (ME), and muscle power (MP). They used the 800m run time (CF), bent knee curl up (ME), and standing broad jump (MP) as their tests to evaluate each adolescent. The results found a dose dependent relationship, where the better the performance on fitness tests were the less likely the mental health issues arose. With cardiovascular fitness the researchers found that when participants had a 30sec improvement in run times, it was associated with reduced risks of anxiety, depression, and ADHD in female participants, and lower risks of anxiety and ADHD in male participants. In regard to muscular endurance, the researchers found that if participants had an increase of 5 curl-ups per minute, it was associated with decreased risks of depression and ADHD in female participants, and lower anxiety and ADHD risks in male participants. And lastly if the participant had improvements in muscular power, reflected by a 20-cm increase in jump distance, it was associated with reduced risks of anxiety and ADHD in female participants and reduced anxiety, depression, and ADHD in male participants.

In conclusion, there's strong evidence that staying active can significantly benefit your mental health at any age. The JAMA study highlights the importance of encouraging physical activity in children and adolescents as a way to prevent mental health issues. By making fitness a fun and accessible part of their lives, we can help young people develop healthy coping mechanisms and build resilience against mental health challenges. So, lace up your shoes, get moving, and boost your mood!

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