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Sweden has seen a disconcerting uptick in the number of suicides, suicide attempts and depression diagnoses.
In an effort to be more pre-emptive, researchers have found that being in good physical shape at 18 years old can be linked to reduced risk of attempted suicide later in life. Physical fitness may be the key to turning this trend around.
The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare has found that teenagers and young adults in Sweden have worse mental health than their age cohorts in other western countries.
They have also found that the number of serious suicide attempts among 19- to 23-year-olds with activity compensation has increased from 115 per year to 460 per year from 1995 to 2010.
Additionally, the number of suicides in the 10- to 45-year-old age group has increased. Research is now focused on preventing mental illness and risk of suicide.
“Being in poor physical shape at 18 years of age, measured as the test results on an exercise bike during their medical exam for compulsory military service, can be linked to a risk of suicidal behavior as an adult that is 1.8 times greater,” explained Margda Waern, researcher at the Sahlgrenska academy, University of Gothenburg.
Physical exercise has a positive effect on brain function as more nerve cells are developed with exercise.
“The teenage years are a critical period in terms of brain development since this is when social and emotional faculties are established,” said Maria Aberg, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy. “Therefore it was important to do a larger study on the importance of physical fitness in terms of suicidal behavior in this age group.”
The researchers looked at the health records of 340,000 men who tested for compulsory military service and what their physical records showed. They found that good physical fitness as a teenager was linked to decreased risk of severe depression later in life.
“One theory is that the brain becomes more resistant to different type of stress if you are physically active,” explained Aberg.
The researchers suggested exercise be considered in future suicide prevention projects.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Sahlgrenska Academy
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