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Exercise may be the key to helping kids cope with stress.
A new study shows that sedentary children exposed to stressful events produced more of the stress hormone cortisol than very physically active kids do. This study is the first to link physical activity in children with stress hormone responses.
“The findings suggest physical activity plays a role in mental health by buffering children from the effects of daily stressors, such as public speaking,” said lead author of the study, Silia Martikinen of the University of Helsinki.
The study monitored 252 8-year-old children. Researchers noted their physical activity by making them wear accelerometer devices, and they measured cortisol levels by taking saliva swabs. The stress-inducing tasks included mathematics and story-telling. There were three groups: active, intermediate and sedentary.
The active group, which exercised for longer periods of time and more rigorously than the others, had cortisol levels which did not increase during the stress-inducing tasks. In contrast, the cortisol levels went way up in the kids who were sedentary. Martikinen explained:
Clearly there is a link between mental and physical well-being, but the nature of the connection is not well understood. These results suggest exercise promotes mental health by regulating the stress hormone response to stressors.
A previous study on college-aged students found a similar association between exercise, stress and anxiety. Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health found that physical activity reduces anxiety and maintains decreased levels of stress.
It appears that, for young people, exercise on a regular basis can help in stabilizing stress levels.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism and University of Maryland
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