Authors: Louise White
Bullied students have a higher risk of poor academic performance, low self-esteem, mental illness and substance abuse. While previous research has highlighted the positive effects of exercise on mental health, researchers from The University of Vermont (VT, USA) have taken this a step further to uncover more about the links between physical activity and suicidal thoughts and attempts in bullied students specifically. The findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
The team utilized data from the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey to examine the relationships between physical activity, sadness and suicidality in US adolescents subjected to bullying. The data, which included 13,583 high school students, indicated that being physically active for four or more days per week resulted in lower reports of sadness and a 23% reduction in suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Lead author Jeremy Sibold (The University of Vermont) commented: “I was surprised that it was that significant and that positive effects of exercise extended to kids actually trying to harm themselves.”
This study comes at a point when exercise is at an all time low in US schools; between 2001 and 2006 there has been a dramatic decline in the percentage of schools offering physical education daily, or at least 3 days a week, while recently 44% of school administrators have cut significant time from physical activity, arts and breaks to instead increase focus on reading and mathematics. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also reported survey results indicating that almost half of students do not have any physical education classes in an average week.
“It’s scary and frustrating that exercise isn’t more ubiquitous and that we don’t encourage it more in schools,” commented Sibold.
Sibold and his team hope that the results of the research highlight the need for the formation of exercise programs as part of the public health’s approach to reduce suicidal behavior among adolescents.
Sources: The University of Vermont press release: www.uvm.edu/~uvmpr/?Page=news&storyID=21450&category=ucommfeaturea; Sibold J, Edwards E, Murray-Close D, Hudziak JJ. Physical Activity, Sadness, and Suicidality in Bullied US Adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2015) (Epub ahead of print).