How Staying Physically Active Benefits Boys’ Mental Health

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New research from the University of Montreal suggests that boys who participate in sports and remain physically active during infancy may alter their “emotional distress trajectories” in ways that make them less prone to generalized anxiety disorder and to generalized anxiety disorder. depression as you get older.

These peer-reviewed results (Harbec et al., 2021) were published on September 27 in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Marie-Josée Harbec is the main author of the study.

Sports engagement can create an upward spiral for children

Regular physical activity and athletic engagement in individual or team sport appear to create an upward spiral for girls and boys during crucial stages of childhood development.

However, boys may benefit more from sports and regular physical activity when it comes to offsetting their risk of emotional distress and avoiding sedentary behaviors that often go hand in hand with crippling anxiety and disorders. major depressive.

For example, boys who participate in sports during infancy tend to experience less emotional distress in mid-childhood, which seems to make them more likely to remain physically active in early adolescence, which strengthens their psychological resilience in adolescence.

“Conversely, boys who show symptoms of depression and anxiety may be more socially isolated, have lower levels of energy and sense of competence, which in turn could negatively influence engagement in school. ‘physical activity,’ lead author Linda Pagani said in a statement. Release.

At the start of this study, Pagani and Harbec had two objectives. First, the researchers wanted to clarify the long-term reciprocal relationship between physical activity and trajectories of emotional distress in school-aged children. Second, they wanted to determine whether physical activity and participation in sports aged 5 to 12 affected the trajectories of emotional distress differently in boys and girls.

Researchers asked parents of 690 boys and 748 girls to complete surveys designed to assess physical activity and sport participation in infancy and middle childhood. They also asked teachers to rate the level of symptoms of emotional distress seen in school aged 6 to 10.

Physical activity affects trajectories of emotional distress differently in girls and boys

“Boys who play sports in preschool might benefit from physical activities that help them develop life skills such as taking initiative, engaging in teamwork and self-control, and establishing supportive relationships with their peers and adult coaches and instructors, ”the researchers note. .

“For girls, the depression and anxiety risks and protective factors work differently,” Harbec said. “Girls are more likely than boys to seek help and disclose their emotional distress to family, friends or health care providers, and the psychological support of these social bonds protects them better. “

“Additionally, boys who had higher levels of depressive and anxious symptoms in mid-childhood were subsequently less physically active at age 12. For girls, on the other hand, we found no significant changes.” , Pagani added.

Taken together, these results suggest that promoting physical activity and sport engagement from an early age may be an effective way to improve boys’ psychological resilience and offset their risk of emotional distress in mid-life. ‘childhood. If emotional distress is minimized by ages 6 to 10, boys are more likely to stay active and less likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression in early adolescence.


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