Animated Brain Exercising with Dumbbells

17 Feb 2020

New study highlights link between exercise and mental health in teenagers

A newly published study (*) has shown that an increase in light activity may improve mental health in teenagers. The link between mental health and physical activity has been researched for some time. However, this study shows that even light activity may benefit teenager’s mental health.


The study:

Researchers from University College London tracked the activity levels of 12, 14 and 16 year-olds. Then, when the teenagers reached 18, they tested them for symptoms of depression using an online questionnaire.

They also measured all levels of activity, including sedentary time (sitting still), light activity (such as walking) and moderate-vigorous activity (such as running and sports).

Interesting trends they found:

  • Their average levels of activity decreased as they got older
  • Their time spent sitting increased as they got older
  • Surprisingly, only 1.5% of participants met the government recommendation for activity level
  • On average, 16 year olds spent around an hour and a half longer each day sitting still compared to 12 year olds

The key result, was that less time spent doing light activity between ages 12-16 was linked to higher depression scores on questionnaires at age 18. This supports previous studies which show physical activity can prove beneficial to our mental health.


Ways forward:

The researchers also highlight easy ways that schools could help increase teenagers activity levels:

  • Standing lessons
  • Increasing travel time between different classes
  • Promoting lightly active hobbies e.g. painting or playing instruments

Overall, this study provides even more evidence that shows the positive benefits of physical activity, even ‘light’ exercise. As depressive symptoms can often occur for the first time during our teens, any message that encourages young people to take action to improve their mental health is an important one.

At The Eaves, we have counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists who specialise in supporting teenagers and young adults. If you are looking for someone to speak to, please contact the referrals team on 01483 917000 who would be happy to help source a suitable therapist for you.



Aaron Kandola, Gemma Lewis, David P J Osborn, Brendon Stubbs, Joseph F Hayes. Depressive symptoms and objectively measured physical activity and sedentary behaviour throughout adolescence: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2020; DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30034-1