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Young people who play sports show lower levels of anxiety and depression, study says

Researchers surveyed more than 5,000 11-20-year-olds late last year.

Image: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

FOUR IN TEN adolescents said they experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to a study published by Dublin City University (DCU).

The Physical Activity and Wellbeing study examined the links between physical activity and mental health/wellbeing in young people.

Just 8% of those surveyed said they get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise each day. 

The research was conducted by PhD student and PE teacher John Murphy and two DCU academics, Dr Bronagh McGrane and Dr Mary Rose Sweeney. 

Murphy said: “The findings help us to narrow down the particular contexts that support and develop wellbeing through physical activity.

“This research highlights the importance of young people remaining involved in sport throughout adolescence for both the physical and mental health benefits.”

5,661 people aged 11-20 from 79 post-primary schools were surveyed between September and October last year as part of the study.  

Young people who engaged in sports were found to have higher wellbeing levels and lower symptoms of anxiety and depression.  

Four in five of the young people surveyed said they played one sport while one in five didn’t take part in any activity.

Two-thirds said they took part in team sports.

The frequency of activity was positively associated with wellbeing and negatively linked with symptoms of anxiety and depression.  

Of the 28 students surveyed who said they did not identify with any gender, nearly 90% reported high levels of anxiety and depression. 

Declining with age

The results of the survey found that the frequency of activity declined with age.

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More than three-quarters of first-year students said they played a team sport. This reduced to under two-thirds by sixth-year.

Just 1% of sixth-year females surveyed achieved the recommended daily guidelines for physical activity. 

One in five adolescents said they didn’t take part in any activity.   

DCU’s Dr Mary Rose Sweeney said society needs to “increase the opportunities for young people to become more active”. 

“Funding for intervention research exploring the impact of different types and different intensities of physical activity on mental wellbeing in adolescents is needed, to explore whether increases in physical activity could be a viable alternative to pharmacological agents, increasingly being prescribed for adolescents,” she said. 

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