A new study finds that exercise for four or more days per week may result in a 23 percent reduction in suicide ideation and attempts in bullied adolescents.
Across the U.S., nearly 20 percent of students report being bullied on school property. The effects of being bullied include challenges with academics, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and self-harm.
Exercise has been widely reported to have robust positive effects on mental health including reduction in depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Researchers used data from a nationally representative sample of youth participants in the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (CDC), to examine the relationship between exercise frequency, sadness, and suicidal ideation and attempt in 13,583 U.S. adolescents in grades nine to 12.
The authors hypothesized that exercise frequency would be inversely related to sadness and suicidality and that these benefits would extend to bullying victims.
Researchers discovered that overall, 30 percent of the students studied reported sadness for two or more weeks in the previous year, and that 22.2 percent and 8.2 percent reported suicidal ideation and suicidal attempt in the same time period.
Bullied students were twice as likely to report sadness, and three times as likely to report suicidal ideation or attempt when compared to peers who were not bullied. Exercise on four or more days per week was associated with significant reductions in sadness, suicidal ideation, and suicidal attempt in all students.
Saliently, the data showed a startling 23 percent reduction in both suicidal ideation and suicidal attempt in bullied students who exercised four or more days per week.
Based on these findings, the authors concluded that exercise may represent a safe, economical, and potentially highly effective option in the response to bullying in schools.
Bullying is a severe and growing public health burden with consequences reported across the life span.
Experts recommend additional research to further define the mechanisms behind these findings as well as the role that exercise can play in reducing the often severe mental health consequences for victims. Further, the paper raises the possibility of exercise programs as a public health approach to reduce suicidal behavior in all adolescents.
This position is a particularly important consideration due to the fact that many high schools in our country have reduced or eliminated required exercise programs for non-varsity athletes.
The study will be published in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).