Teenage Exercise Curbs Suicide In Adulthood
June 26, 2013

Teenage Exercise Helps Fight Suicidal Thoughts Later In Life

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Teenagers who are in good physical shape are less likely to display suicidal behavior even years later in adulthood, according to a study published in Psychological Medicine.

Researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg found that 18 year olds who are in good physical shape have a reduced risk of attempted suicide later in life. Their study also shows that teenagers and young adults in Sweden have worse mental health than their age cohorts in other western countries.

The team used a study of over 1.1 million Swedish men to show that there is a link between exercising as a young person and a reduced risk of suicidal behavior later in life.

"Being in poor physical shape at 18 years of age, measured as the test results on an exercise bike during their medical exam for compulsory military service, can be linked to a risk of suicidal behavior as an adult that is 1.8 times greater," says Margda Waern, research professor at the Academy’s Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology.

They found that the increased risk was evident even 42 years after the exam for military service took place. Past studies have found that physical exercise has a highly positive effect on human psychology, but this study showed how those effects can last decades.

"The teenage years are a critical period in terms of brain development since this is when social and emotional faculties are established. Therefore, it was important to do a larger study on the importance of physical fitness in terms of suicidal behavior in this age group," says Maria Åberg, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy who led the study together with Professor Margda Waern.

The study covered all Swedish men born between 1950 and 1987 who completed the mandatory exam. They compared results from physical tests during the exam with the national register of disease and death.

Waern said even when the team excluded individuals who suffer from severe depression, the link between poor physical shape and an increased risk of suicidal behavior remains. One theory as to why the link exists is that the brain becomes more resistant to different types of stress in individuals who are physically active.

Researchers believe that physical exercise should be considered in suicide prevention projects aimed at young people. The findings are supported by earlier cross-sectional studies where teens were interviewed about physical fitness in connection with the risk of suicidal thoughts.

A 2010 study found that people who regularly exercise during their free time are less likely to have symptoms of depression and anxiety.