Physical education and athletic programs in schools don’t just promote student fitness. All that moving around may also offer a significant mental health benefit, according to a new study that found regular exercise may help buffer bullied teens against harmful thoughts.
Researchers from the University of Vermont found that four or more days of physical activity per week reduced suicide attempts in bullied teens by as much as 23 percent. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The study analyzed data from 13,583 high school student responses as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Approximately 30 percent of all students surveyed reported feeling sad for more than two weeks over the last year, and 22 percent said they even had thoughts of suicide. Bullied students, who are at risk for mental health issues and poor academic performance were three times more likely to admit to suicidal ideation than their non-bullied peers. Exercise was associated with a significant reduction in those reported feelings of sadness and harmful thoughts, according to the results.
The findings come at a time when many physical education programs are being cut back. Approximately 44 percent of school administrators have significantly cut time allotted for PE and arts programs across the country, according to a 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The goal, experts theorize, is for students to devote time to subject areas like reading and math.
The new University of Vermont study is hardly the first to confirm a science-backed mental health benefit of exercise, but it is the first to link exercise with a reduction in suicidal thoughts among those who are picked on in school. Data suggests 28 percent of students in grades nine through 12 are bullied, according to the CDC.
Studies have also shown that exercise can also reduce stress, help prevent obesity and evenhelp students perform better in school, not to mention the fact that team sports may be linked to positive emotions and prosocial behaviors.
Sounds like a pretty good argument to bring back recess.