Exercise and Mental Health in Adolescence
Written by: Monica
Category: Kids & Teens
Published on: September 8, 2020

Many teens will struggle with depression before reaching adulthood. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, between 10%-15% of teenagers have symptoms of depression at any one time. Depression can lead to strained relationships, problems with school work, substance use, and even suicide.

Symptoms of depression and anxiety often occur during times of stress. Taking steps to reduce stress in your life and maintain a healthy lifestyle can improve your symptoms and keep them from reoccurring.

Exercise is a great way to improve both your physical and mental health. In fact, a recent study in England is adding to the already overwhelming evidence of the benefits of exercise. The British study followed teens with depression and enrolled them in trainer-led workouts 3 times a week for 12 weeks.

The teens were also encouraged to exercise 30 minutes a day on other days. According to the researchers, the workouts were linked to significant boosts in mood and depression severity, which was cut by 63%. 83% of the teens who completed the exercise program were no longer clinically depressed by the end of the study.

Furthermore, psychologists studying how exercise relieves depression and anxiety suggest that exercising for as little as 10 minutes can deliver several hours of relief.

Benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Stress Reduction: Exercise slows down the release of stress-related hormones. 
  • Self Esteem Boost: Doing something good for yourself, like exercise, makes you feel better about yourself. 
  • Improved Sleep: Daily routines can improve sleep quality, and consistent exercise can provide improvements in sleep over time.

It’s important to remember that depression and mood disorders are not the same for everyone. Understanding how to make small adjustments in your life to help decrease your feelings of depression can help you cope at different times and incorporating different types of exercise into your week may also help.

For instance, a short jog, weights session, an upbeat exercise class, or a clinical pilates class may appeal differently to you and others. What is most helpful is if you can find what works best, and stick to it. Inviting friends along can help you keep the commitment and the motivation.

While exercise is an excellent way to improve physical and mental health, it is not a substitution for professional mental health care. If you are concerned about your mental health and the effects it may be having on your body, it is essential to seek help from a trusted adult and talk to a professional such as a psychologist.

Exercise and Teenagers

Exercise is an important part of keeping teens healthy. Encouraging healthy lifestyles in children and teens is important for when they grow older. Lifestyles that are learned in childhood are more likely to stay with the child into adulthood and helps them minimise the risk of developing chronic health conditions. Remember, some changes in lifestyle can be harder to make as a person ages so the best way to promote healthy lifestyles is for the whole family to become involved.

Establishing an Exercise plan

A daily exercise program helps to establish good heart-healthy habits. The following exercise guidelines for teens can help you and your teen plan activities:

  • Teenagers need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days to maintain good health and fitness, and for a healthy weight during growth.
  • Parents are encouraged to limit a teen’s screen time (TV, ipad, and computers) to less than 2 hours daily and replace these sitting activities with activities that require more movement.

Even low-to-moderate intensity activities for as little as 30 minutes a day can be helpful. These activities may include the following:

  • Pleasure walking
  • Climbing stairs
  • Dancing
  • Home exercise

Regular aerobic physical activity increases a teen’s capacity for exercise. It also plays a role in the prevention of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Aerobic activities are continuous activities that cause the heart rate and breathing rate to increase. To prevent dehydration, encourage your teen to drink water (rather than sport drinks) regularly during physical activity and after.

Examples of vigorous activities may include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Roller skating
  • Jumping rope
  • Playing on the playground
  • Dancing
  • Gymnastics
  • Hiking
  • Soccer
  • Tag games

For teens, daily exercise may help prevent conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels, as well as poor lifestyle habits that lead to heart attacks and strokes later in life.

Exercising regularly is part of a healthy lifestyle however, some teenagers can exercise too much. If your teen begins losing weight and falls below expected growth patterns, or if exercise interferes with other normal activities, including school, you should talk with your teen’s healthcare provider.


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