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Exercise Might Help Children Deal With Stress

Update Date: Mar 30, 2013 01:26 PM EDT

Children who exercise vigorously and consistently reap the full benefits from the physical activities. Other than staving off obesity, previous studies have found that children who exercise have better cognitive abilities, memory and attention span. In a recent study, the researchers found even more advantageous effects of daily physical activity. The study, done in the University of Helsinki in Finland, found that children, who had sedentary lifestyles, had higher levels of a certain brain area activity linked to dealing and coping with psychosocial stress.

The study, headed by Silja Martikaninen, looked at 258 children through a cross-sectional study. Martikaninen and colleagues studied the effects of everyday stressors on these children who were eight-years-old. Everyday stressors included doing arithmetic and reading a story out loud for others to hear. The researchers looked into the levels of activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (HPAA) measured by the saliva cortisol levels. The children's physical activity levels were monitored by wrist accelerometers.

"Our study shows that increased levels of PA [physical activity] are associated with decreased HPAA reactivity to stress in a community sample of 8-year-old children. Although children with different levels of PA show similar diurnal patterns of salivary cortisol, the children with the lowest activity levels are more responsive to psychosocial stress. Consequently, PA may contribute to the psychological well-being of children by regulating their neuroendocrine reactivity to stress."

The researchers concluded that children who were more active daily and were introduced to everyday stressors did not have an increased level of HPAA activity. This indicates that active children might be better able to deal with psychosocial stress. Children who did not have rigorous exercise schedules and were exposed to stressors had higher levels of HPAA activity, and had a harder time in dealing with stress. This study adds on to the lengthy list of exercise benefits for young children. Including daily physical activities in a child's schedule can benefit them into adulthood.

The study was published in the journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

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