Even a little exercise can improve the mental health of overweight teens, according to new research.
A Canadian study found a small amount of activity helps these young people with issues such as body dissatisfaction, social alienation and low self-esteem.
"The first thing I tell teens and parents struggling with their weight in my practise is to throw away the scale," Dr Gary Goldfield, a psychologist and clinical researcher at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, and an associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Ottawa, said.
"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."
How the study was done
The researchers randomly assigned 30 adolescents, ranging in age from 12 to 17, to either ride a stationary cycle while listening to music of their own choice or play an interactive video game they had picked out for one hour. They completed the activity in a lab at a light to moderate level of intensity. The sessions were repeated twice a week for 10 weeks.
Following their workouts, the adolescents were asked how competent they felt academically, socially and athletically. They also reported on their body image and self-esteem.
Although the two groups of teens had few physical changes over the course of 10 weeks, they thought they were more competent socially and at school, the study revealed. They also felt better about their appearance and weight. The researchers suggested this mental health boost could help overweight teens overcome teasing, discrimination and weight-related bias.
"We're talking about psychological benefits derived from improved fitness resulting from modest amounts of aerobic exercise, not a change in weight or body fat," Goldfield said. "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 study was published online in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.
The self-esteem make-over
Visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health to learn more about exercise and physical fitness.
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