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Small Amounts of Exercise May Help Teenagers Boost Menatal Health: Study

Update Date: Oct 02, 2012 08:47 AM EDT

Being obese, apart from bringing health complications, also affects a person mentally, by lowering their self-esteem, making them alienate themselves socially and bringing bodily dissatisfaction, etc.

Keeping these factors in mind, Dr. Gary Goldfield, registered psychologist, clinical researcher at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, and Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa, set out to study how exercise might impact these factors in teens.

"The first thing I tell teens and parents struggling with their weight in my practice is to throw away the scale," said Dr. Gary Goldfield. "These kids face enough challenges with bullying and peer pressure today! This new study is proof positive that even a modest dose of exercise is prescriptive for a mental health boost."

For the study, the researchers divided 30 adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years, into two groups. While one group was told to follow twice weekly laboratory-based sessions of stationary cycling to music of their own choice, the other group was asked to play an interactive video game of their own choice for a 10-week trial.

Both the groups were supervised while performing the tasks, which were performed with moderate intensity. The participants were also given the choice to stop any time between the 60 minute sessions.

Afterwards, an account of psychosocial functioning of the teenagers was recorded by the researchers, based on the self-reported data. This included their scholastic competence, social competence, athletic competence, body image, and self esteem.

Although there were a few physical differences found between the exercise groups over time, self-report improvements in perceived scholastic competence, social competence, and several markers of body image including appearance esteem and weight esteem could be noted.

Dr. Goldfield says that the research has shown that exercising induced improvements in body image, perceived social and academic functioning can empower adolescents psychologically and may also be helpful in dealing with weight-based teasing and discrimination which hampers emotional well-being of these children, drastically.

"We're talking about psychological benefits derived from improved fitness resulting from modest amount of aerobic exercise- not a change in weight or body fat," continued Dr. Goldfield. "If you can improve your physical activity and fitness even minimally, it can help improve your mental health. By teaching kids to focus on healthy active lifestyle behaviors, they are focusing on something they can control."

The report was published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

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