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Cambridge University Science Magazine
Recent research at the Trimbos Institute in the Netherlands and VU University Medical Center has focussed on establishing the bases of two existing explanations linking exercise and mental health. The first proffers that improved physique and body weight leads to positive comments from friends and family; thus boosting self image and confidence. The second suggests that it is the social influence of group exercise which propagates a supportive atmosphere among team mates.

Karin Monshouwer and colleagues recruited over 700 Dutch teens who completed surveys detailing their exercise habits (including organised sports), body weight perception and any mental health problems. These findings were cross-referenced with information about their residential and socioeconomic status to confirm both the self-image and social interaction hypotheses.

The research, published in the new Association for Psychological Science journal Clinical Psychological Science, found that inactive teens or those that thought of themselves as too thin or fat were more prone to either depression and anxiety or aggression and drug abuse; irrespective of where they lived.

The researchers acknowledge that the physiological effects of exercise are also likely to play a role in mental health; however they hope that future studies will continue to build on these findings by following participants over time. As Monshouwer says, “We think that these findings are important for policymakers and anyone who works in healthcare or prevention. Our findings indicate that physical activity may be one effective tool for the prevention of mental health problems in adolescence”.

Written by Joanna-Marie Howes.