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Physical Inactivity Linked to Emotional and Behavioral Problems in Adolescents

by User Not Found | Aug 01, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS – Physical inactivity is associated with several emotional and behavioral problems in adolescents, according to the results of a large study published in the October 2008 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®, the official scientific journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). As in adults, the results indicate that physically inactive adolescents have more emotional and behavioral problems than those who are physically active.

The study, conducted by Finnish researchers, is the first to offer an extensive picture of the association of mental health problems and physical activity in youth, including both internal and external factors.

More than 7,000 boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 16 participated in a survey, reporting their levels of physical activity and responding to questions about their mental and emotional states. Boys who reported less than one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week had more symptoms identified by researchers as anxious/depressed and withdrawn/depressed, as well as thought problems. Inactive girls had similar problems, but more commonly reported somatic complaints and rule-breaking behaviors in addition. Both boys and girls have similar issues with social and attention problems when compared to their physically active peers.

“Adolescence is already a complicated and sometimes difficult stage of life — emotionally, mentally and physically,” said Marko T. Kantomaa, the lead author of the study. “Compounding that with negative mental and emotional effects brought on by physical inactivity does not help young people ease into adulthood. Physical activity could be a highly effective and relatively easy way to help that transition, and could, in addition, lead to establishment of lifelong healthy habits.”

Researchers pointed to evidence in adults that an increase in physical activity can help reduce and address symptoms of depression and anxiety, noting a growing body of research supports the same benefits for youth and adolescents. “It seems that there is a psychological and physiological connection that, when operating together, help explain the beneficial effects of exercise on mental health,” said Kantomaa.

ACSM and the American Heart Association recommend that healthy adults ages 18 to 65 years old need moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for at least 20 minutes on three days each week. Children and young adults under the age of 18 should be active for at least 60 minutes each day.


The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world.  More than 20,000 international, national and regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

NOTE: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® is the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, and is available from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins at 1-800-638-6423. For a complete copy of the research paper (Vol. 40, No. 10, pages 1749-1756) or to speak with a leading sports medicine expert on the topic, contact the Department of Communications and Public Information at 317-637-9200 ext. 127 or 133. Visit ACSM online at

The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.

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