Child psychiatry

Physical activity in youth benefits the teenage mental health

Children who engage in sports as youth are less likely to experience anxiety and depressive problems than their peers who do not exercise. Their sense of self-esteem plays a key role. This is shown by research of Erasmus MC published in the scientific journal JAMA Psychiatry.

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The Erasmus MC researchers shed new light on the relationship between physical activity and mental health in adolescents. Children who exercise have fewer mental health problems. The researchers determined that self-esteem likely explains this relationship.

The researchers observed that children who engage in sports as teenagers are less likely to experience so-called ‘internalizing’ behavioral problems. These problems are related to depressive, anxious, and withdrawn behaviors. The researchers believe that this may be due to resilience.


‘Children who exercise have more confidence in themselves and their bodies. This helps them cope with the changes and setbacks that come with the teenage period. Self-esteem through exercise can help them cope’, explains Maria Rodriquez-Ayllon from the Departments of Epidemiology.

The authors used the Generation R Study cohort, with data from thousands of Rotterdam children. They examined the development of children’s brains with scans. They also analyzed whether and how often children exercise, how they view themselves, and how they feel using questionnaires. In addition, their behavior in terms of sleep, diet, and screen time was documented at six, ten, and thirteen years of age.

Find a sport for your children that they enjoy and feel comfortable with

Rodriquez-Ayllon studied the biological, social, and psychological aspects together and looked at effects over the years.

As a recommendation, Rodriquez-Ayllon suggests that parents find a sport for their children that they enjoy and feel comfortable with. This is not only proven to be good for their physical development, but also potentially for their mental health.

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