Sporty boys have fewer mental health problems and are less likely to suffer issues as they grow up, study suggests
- Researchers found lads who played sport before starting school less ‘distressed’
- Findings also suggest that boys who experience less distress likely more active
- No similar correlation in girls between participation in sport and mental health
Young boys who play sport are less likely to experience mental health issues as they grow up, a study claims.
Researchers found that lads who participate in sports before they even start school are less likely to experience depressive and anxiety symptoms – or ’emotional distress’ – between the ages of five and 12.
The findings also suggest that boys who experience less distress as they grow up are also likely to be more active in early adolescence.
Researchers found that lads who participate in sports before they even start school are less likely to experience depressive and anxiety symptoms
However, there was no similar correlation in girls between participation in sport and mental health.
Study leader Marie-Josee Harbec –who conducted the study of 690 boys and 748 girls as a doctoral student supervised by Professor Linda Pagani at the University of Montreal in Canada – said: ‘There’s widespread evidence of a crisis these days in childhood physical inactivity, and this may ultimately have implications for later mental and physical health.’
The findings were published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Paediatrics.
The researchers examined the sporting and physical activity habits reported by youngsters aged five and 12, as well as by their parents.
The youngsters’ teachers assessed emotional-distress symptoms observed in school from ages six to 10
They also looked at symptoms of emotional distress from age six to 10 that were reported by the participants’ teachers.
Study senior author Prof Pagani added: ‘We found that five-year-old boys who never participated in sports were more likely between the ages of six and 10 to look unhappy and tired, had difficulty having fun, cried a lot, and appeared fearful or worried.
‘Also, boys who exhibited higher levels of depressive and anxious symptoms during middle childhood were subsequently less physically active at 12-years-old. For girls, on the other hand, we did not find any significant changes.’
Parents of 690 boys and 748 girls born in the Canadian province of Quebec in 1997 and 1998 reported their participation in sport at age five and their weekly level of physical activity at age 12.
The youngsters’ teachers assessed emotional-distress symptoms observed in school from ages six to 10.
The figures were stratified by sex to identify any significant link between physical activity and emotional distress.
Many confounding factors were ruled out, said the researchers.
Dr Harbec, who along with Prof Pagani practices at Saint-Justine children’s hospital in Montreal, said: ‘Our goal was to eliminate any pre-existing conditions of the children or families that could throw a different light on our results, such as child temperament, parental education or family income..’
She said boys who engage in sport in preschool might benefit from physical activities that help them develop life skills – such as taking initiative, engaging in teamwork and practicing self-control – and build supportive relationships with their peers and adult coaches and instructors.
Dr Harbec said, for girls, depression and anxiety risks and protective factors work differently
Professor Pagani said: ‘Conversely, boys who experience symptoms of depression and anxiety might be more socially isolated, and have a decreased level of energy and lower feelings of competence, which could in turn negatively influence engagement in physical activity.’
Dr Harbec said, for girls, depression and anxiety risks and protective factors work differently.
She explained that girls are more likely than boys to seek help from and disclose emotional distress to their family, friends or health providers, and psychological support from those social ties protects them better.
Dr Harbec added: ‘Also, because more girls experience emotional distress than boys, this gender-related risk may have led to early identification and intervention for girls.’