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Research on mental health benefits through fitness has been released, citing ways in which communities can provide support for children’s futures through fitness initiatives that can be replicated worldwide.

Mental health struggles are well documented throughout our culture, and yet conditions such as anxiety, depression and mental illness are still seen as taboo subjects to discuss openly. Escape spoke to 6x Mr Olympia Dorian Yates on depression, mental health problems and how fitness helps, which is reassuring to know that the support is there from industry icons, but there’s more to be done at a grassroots level.

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How can we improve mental health through fitness?

Looking at the younger generations will be key to educating communities about the benefits of exercise on mental health.

fitness in children

A study of 664 students in China assessed the effectiveness of a positive youth development-based sports mentorship programme on the physical and mental wellbeing of adolescents. Published in the journal, Pediatrics, the research found a simple initiative that could be delivered at an early stage for both physical and mental health improvements.

The study involved students undertaking 18 weekly sports mentoring sessions, each lasting for 90 minutes. A control group was also randomly assigned and provided with access to an online health education game for the same period.

The participating students were 12.3 years old on average, and 58.1% were girls. At baseline, approximately one-fourth were overweight or obese whereas 2.4% were underweight.

The future of fitness: body and mind.

Results found that the intervention not only enhanced students’ physical fitness, as would be expected, but also improved their mental wellbeing, confidence, self-efficacy, resilience and more. The research shows that implementing similar development initiatives elsewhere in the world could dramatically raise elements of personal wellbeing across a community or country.

tackling the increasing burden of mental disorders

The study continued: “This PYD-based sports mentorship programme could improve adolescents’ mental wellbeing, self-efficacy, resilience, physical fitness, and physical activity levels. Scaling up this program may be useful in tackling the increasing burden of mental disorders and physical inactivity.

“Mental disorders in adolescents are a global public health concern. Positive youth development may prevent adolescent health and developmental problems, but there were few randomised controlled trials on its causal effects on mental health, particularly in a community setting.”


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