Exercise can improve self-esteem, mood for teens, tweens

WASHINGTON – We all know that exercise is good for growing bodies. But new studies show it is also good for the teenaged soul.

New studies find that being active can lower the risk of depression for teens and tweens.

“That is on one of our prescriptions that we give for our patients that are suffering from depression or even dysthymia, or low mood,” says Dr. Kirsten Hawkins, chief of adolescent medicine at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

She says she has seen cases where lifestyle changes — exercise, eating right and sleeping well — have made a big difference.

Exercise works by releasing endorphins and improving self-esteem, which can translate into overall better mental health.

The relationship between teen depression and exercise is one of the topics being discussed this week at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting in D.C, where researchers from Texas presented the results of their study of 437 sixth graders.

The research team gave each child a fitness test and a survey where they answered questions about their moods and activity level. The students were checked again a year later, and the researchers found fitness was a key factor in lowering their risk of depression, with girls showing better results than boys.

This finding is very much in line with a Canadian study of high school students that appeared in the June issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health about the mental health benefits of playing team sports.

An earlier and much smaller study on the subject was undertaken about five years ago at H.D. Woodson High School in D.C. Hawkins was involved in the research, which was conducted through a school-based health center.

The study was completed during the WiiFit craze, and a group of students regularly came to the health center to play fitness video games during their lunch hour.

“We found although weight changes didn’t happen, we did find psychological benefits,” says Hawkins.

She says WiiFit may not be the most active type of exercise, but at least it got them moving.

“For the kid who hates to run, it doesn’t have to be running. It can be dancing, it can be Zumba — as long as it is something.”

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