The Benefits of Exercise for Teen Mental Health

ONE OF THE BEST THINGS that parents can do for their kids is help them build an exercise habit. That might mean dance, yoga, hiking or high school athletics. It should be something they really enjoy, so they’re inspired to keep doing it.

Why is exercise so essential for teens? Because physical activity has significant benefits for teen mental health, according to a large body of research. In fact, exercise can even be as effective as antidepressants. And, on the flip side, physical inactivity is associated with the development of psychological disorders.

Studies show that exercise has the following benefits for teen mental health:

Positively impacts levels of serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mental health.
Releases endorphins, the body’s natural “happy chemicals.”
Lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol .
Stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which improves mood.
Increases self-esteem and body positivity.
Helps teens sleep better.
Evidence shows that teen athletics are particularly supportive, on a number of levels.

According to a Canadian study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, students who play team sports in grades eight through 12 have less stress and depression as young adults. Teens who play sports also gain confidence, critical-thinking and judgment skills, as well as increased cognitive function.

However, just about any type of physical exercise is beneficial. In a small study of a dozen young adults at the University of Newcastle in Australia, participants with major depressive disorder exercised regularly; after 12 weeks of exercise, 10 of the participants were no longer categorized as depressed. Regular exercise has also been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety.

And the effects are long-lasting: In one study, researchers found that people who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.

According to James S. Gordon, author of “Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression,” “Physical exercise has direct effects on the biology and psychology of depression. … Exercising, we discover that feelings of helplessness and hopelessness begin to fade.”

 

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