Exercise Helps Children Cope with Stress
Previous studies suggest that children who engage in more physical activity not only have more optimal physical health but they also exhibit better mental health. Researchers from the University of Helsinki, Finland, however, wanted to find out what pathways are involved in the link between physical activity and mental well being.
Lead author, Silja Martikainen, MA, report in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism that exercise may play a vital role in helping children cope with stressful situations. Daily stressors could induce surges in cortisol, a hormone released by the body in response to stress. They found that more active children had little or no increases in cortisol levels when exposed to everyday stressors compared to sedentary children.
The study involved 252 children aged eight years old who were asked to wear accelerometer devices on their wrists to measure their daily physical activity. Baseline cortisol levels were measured from saliva samples. Next, they were given tasks such as solving arithmetic problems and story-telling assignments. Levels of stress hormones were measured again after the tests.
The investigators analyzed the results and found that children who exercised more vigorously and for longer periods of time had the least cortisol levels in response to stressful situations. Martikainen says that these results suggest that exercise regulates the stress hormone response to stressors, which promotes physical well-being and mental health.
The study is the first to demonstrate a link between levels of physical activity and stress hormone responses in young children.
Endocrine Society. Exercise shields children from stress, research indicates. ScienceDaily.