The researchers looked at over 1200 teenagers aged between 16 and 20 from Switzerland. The teenagers’ well-being was assessed using the World Health Organization (WHO) Well-being Index, which gives a score of 0-25. A score below 13 is considered an indicator of poor well-being.
The teenagers’ sports participation was categorized as:
- Low (0-3.5 hours per week)
- Average (3.6-10.5 hours per week)
- High (10.6-17.5 hours per week)
- Very high (17.5 + hours per week)
Low sports activity was found in 35% of teenagers, 41.5% had average activity, 18.5% had high activity and 5% were very high.
The key finding from the research was that the teenagers in the Low and very high categories were more than twice as likely to have well-being scores below 13, than the subjects in the average group. Where did the 14 hours’ time frame come from you may ask? They found that the teenagers who did around 14 hours of physical activity per week had the highest well-being scores. More than 14 hours lead to lower well-being scores. The researchers summed up the findings well:
“Physical activity has been associated with positive emotional well-being, reduced depressive, anxiety and stress disorders, and improved self-esteem and cognitive functioning in children and adolescents.
We found that sports practice apparently ceased to be a protective factor and became an independent risk factor for poor well-being when practicing more than twice the 7 recommended hours per week”.
What to make of this research
As with most things in life, this goes to show you can have too much of a good thing. Exercise is very important, but doing too much of it can be detrimental to your health. Our bodies need time to rest and recuperate. I believe the key to take from this is teenagers need to find a balance between exercise, education, rest and recuperation. If your teenager is playing a lot of sports make sure they are functioning well, are well-nourished and as well rested as they can be. This will give them the best results with their sports but also a high level of well-being.
The other key finding from this research is those kids who were in the low level of activity group also had the lowest well-being scores. I would have expected this finding. What I thought was interesting was that 35% of the people in the study were in this group. That is a lot of teenagers doing less than 3.5 hours of physical activity a week. I bet the numbers in NZ would be similar. This is something that needs to change. If you have teenagers at home who spend all day in front of the computer or TV, then we need to find ways to get them motivated to get out and do some more physical activity. If they do this, their bodies will thank them for it.