How Exercise Can Save Your Teen’s Life

Researchers have unveiled yet another benefit of physical activity. 


No parent (or teacher, or coach, or any adult ever) wants to see kids they care about walk around with their heads down and their spirits low. When bouts of sadness strike teens, adults are often left feeling confused and helpless. We want to intervene before the situation escalates, but we’re not sure how to do so.

New research suggests one simple but immensely effective solution: Get moving! 

Scientists from the University of Vermont pulled data from more than 13,000 high school students to reinforce the positive correlation between exercise and mood, especially in bullied teens. 

The study found that at least four days of physical activity per week led to a near 25 percent reduction of sadness and suicidal thoughts in bullied teens (who comprise 20 percent of the country’s adolescent population).

Teens who suffer from bullying at school are often subject to low grades and low self-esteem, in addition to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. And perhaps most obviously, bullied students are sadder than their non-bullied counterparts. 

About 30 percent of study participants reported feeling sad for two or more weeks per year, with that number doubling in bullied teens.

Yet, at the same time, almost half of schools have reported cuts to physical education and recess time since 2001, according to the National Academy Of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine.

Lead study author Jeremy Sibold expressed concern over the contradiction:

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?

Regardless of schools’ role in fighting sadness and suicide, you have the power to encourage your teens to get moving for the betterment of their overall health, whether through club sports, individual workouts, or backyard play. Look to these beginner exercises for inspiration.

Want to learn more about bullying and exercise? We’ve got you covered. Check out our new Choices-curated list of the 33 best online health resources for teens