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Physical activity and sleep help maintain good mental health in adolescents

A physically active lifestyle is one of the prerequisites to good mental health in adolescents.
A physically active lifestyle is one of the prerequisites to good mental health in adolescents. Photo credit: Aivo Kallas.
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Researchers at the University of Tartu Faculty of Medicine examined whether lower physical activity and sleep disturbances in 14-16-year-old girls is a precursor for more frequent depressive symptoms later in life.

Studies conducted so far have confirmed that low levels of physical activity and sleep disturbances in adults are related to the degeneration of mental health, including an increase in depressive symptoms. However, the amount of scientific data on the degree of association between low physical activity and sleep disturbances in adolescence and the later development of depressive symptoms is insufficient.

Furthermore, previous studies have shown that mental health often deteriorates specifically in adolescence, especially in girls. Based on this, the researchers at the University of Tartu Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy conducted a short-term longitudinal study with the aim of finding out whether lower physical activity and sleep disturbances in adolescent girls predict more frequent depressive symptoms later in life.

The two-year study involved 173 girls who individually assessed their physical activity, sleep disturbances and depressive symptoms with the help of questionnaires. The results found that between the ages of 14 and 16, girls’ physical activity declined, and sleep disturbances and depressive symptoms increased.

“We modelled the associations between all of the three studied variables at the beginning and across the study. This revealed that the higher the starting level of depressive symptoms were and the steeper its indicators grew in two years, the larger the decline was in girls’ physical activity,” said one of the authors of the study, Lennart Raudsepp – a Professor of Sports Psychology at the University of Tartu.

The study also revealed a positive correlation between an increase in depressive symptoms and sleep disturbances. Based on the results, however, it cannot be claimed that an increase in depressive symptoms causes a reduction of physical activity and higher incidence of sleep disturbances, because the researchers did not use experimental manipulation on the variables. “This means that we did not influence the naturally occurring change in girls’ sleep nor physical activity in any way,” explained Raudsepp.

“Nevertheless, we conclude from the results that a physically active lifestyle and proper sleep is one of the prerequisites to good mental health in adolescents. By seeing to that young people move preferably for an hour a day and sleep for at least nine hours at night, it is possible to reduce mental health problems in adolescents,” emphasised Raudsepp.

The scientific article “Brief report: Longitudinal associations between physical activity, sleep disturbance and depressive symptoms in adolescent girls” was published in the Journal of Adolescence. The authors of the study are Lennart Raudsepp, a Professor of Sports Psychology at the University of Tartu, and Kristi Vink.

More information:
Lennart Raudsepp
Professor of Sports Psychology, University of Tartu
+372 518 6920
lennart.raudsepp@ut.ee

Notice forwarded by:
Virge Ratasepp
Communication Specialist at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Tartu
+372 5815 5392
virge.ratasepp@ut.ee

The translation of this article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

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