Regular exercise for high school students can reduce suicide by 23%, a new study finds.
Exercise had a beneficial effect on both suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
The study is the first to show that exercise can help students who are being bullied.
Dr Jeremy Sibold, who led the research, said:
“I was surprised that it was that significant and that positive effects of exercise extended to kids actually trying to harm themselves.
Even if one kid is protected because we got them involved in an after-school activity or in a physical education program it’s worth it.”
The US survey of 13,583 high school students found that physical activity on four or more days was linked to a 23% reduction in suicidal ideation and attempts.
The survey also revealed that:
- 30% of students reported feeling sad for two or more weeks over the past year.
- 22% reported suicidal thoughts.
- 8.2% reported suicide attempts.
Bullied students were twice as likely to report sadness and three times as likely to think about suicide or try to act on those thoughts.
Despite the benefits of exercise, many school administrators across the US are cutting physical education.
Currently only around half of young people in the US meet minimum standards for exercise (at least 60 minutes per day).
Dr Sibold said:
“It’s scary and frustrating that exercise isn’t more ubiquitous and that we don’t encourage it more in schools.
Instead, some kids are put on medication and told ‘good luck.’
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?”
The research was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (Sibold et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Sad teen image from Shutterstock