Physical Activity Can Reduce the Harmful Effects of Bullying

Teenage boy looking depressed

Strategies to curb bullying are gaining traction as schools and communities work together to implement curricula and interventions to help assure our kids develop and learn in healthy, safe environments. Interestingly, a new study is highlighting one strategy to reduce the harmful effects of bullying that we’ve always known is important: physical activity.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers at the University of Vermont in Burlington looked at data from 13,583 U.S. students to evaluate the effects of exercise on mental health. More specifically, they studied how exercise correlated with sadness and suicidal thoughts in bullied and non-bullied students.

Exercise Lessens Sadness and Suicidal Thoughts

What they found is unsurprising: exercise is a good thing! Students across the board who said they engaged in physical activity 4 to 5 times a week had a lower incidence of sadness, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.

When the researchers pulled out data specifically for students who reported having been bullied, they found similar results: bullied students who were physically active had an approximate 23% reduction in suicidal thoughts and attempts.

A Call to Action

In many ways this correlation is wonderful news and demonstrates the great power of physical activity in blunting the negative effects of bullying and lessening depression. We already know the overall benefits of exercise on physical health. This data reinforces the need for continued emphasis on getting kids active for mental health benefits.

We need to keep encouraging our kids to play sports on school teams, run around on the playground during recess, jump up and down in gym class, and kick a soccer ball in an after school program.

Bullying and its detrimental effects should continue to garner our collective attention and accordingly, so should our efforts to increase opportunities for all children and adolescents to be physically active.

In a University of Vermont press release, Jeremy Sibold, Ed.D., lead author of the study and associate professor and chairman of the university’s department of rehabilitation and movement science notes: “If exercise reduces sadness, suicide ideation and suicide attempts, then why in the world are we cutting physical education programs and making it harder for students to make athletic teams at such a critical age?"

It is indeed useful to consider interventions to increase physical activity in our communities and schools that can swing the pendulum in a direction favorable to both mental and physical well-being. Let’s help kids be active!

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Benjamin R. Snell, MD

Benjamin R. Snell, MD, is a family physician with Lancaster General Health Physicians Family Medicine Twin Rose. A graduate of Concordia College and Georgetown University School of Medicine, Dr. Snell served his residency at Lancaster General Hospital. Dr. Snell enjoys "caring for the whole person in each stage of life."

Call: 717-684-9106

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