A new study suggests exercise can significantly help children manage stressful situations.
Researchers discovered sedentary children have surges of cortisol — a hormone linked to stress — when they are exposed to everyday stressors.
However, the most active children had little or no increase in their cortisol levels in similar situations.
“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 the study’s lead author, Silja Martikainen, M.A., of the University of Helsinki, Finland.
The cross-sectional study monitored physical activity and cortisol levels in a 252 eight-year-old children. The participants wore accelerometer devices on their wrists to measure physical activity; saliva samples were taken to measure cortisol levels.
Investigators measured a childâ€™s reaction to stress by having the children assigned arithmetic and story-telling tasks.
The children were divided into three groups — most active, intermediate and least active. The most active children exercised more vigorously and for longer periods of time than their counterparts.
Researchers discovered the most active children’s cortisol levels were the least reactive to stressful situations.
“Clearly, there is a link between mental and physical well-being, but the nature of the connection is not well understood,” Martikainen said.
“These results suggest exercise promotes mental health by regulating the stress hormone response to stressors.”
The study, published in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM), is the first to find a link between physical activity and stress hormone responses in children.
Source: The Endocrine Society