More Exercise and Less Screen Time Improves Teen Mental Health


A new international study explores the connections between adolescent well-being, physical activity, and screen time.


A new study, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, examines the relationship between physical activity, screen time, and adolescent mental well-being internationally. The researchers found that more screen time and less physical activity were associated with lower life satisfaction and more somatic complaints in adolescents from high-income countries.


The researchers, led by Dr. Asaduzzaman Khan, of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science at the University of Queensland, write:


“Given that both excessive screen time and insufficient physical activity are prevalent during adolescence and can persist into adulthood, understanding how levels of screen time and physical activity are jointly linked with mental well-being is important for reducing their impact on mental health.”


They call for further research and suggest that public health strategies that encourage physical activity and decrease screen time be implemented to promote adolescents’ mental well-being.


Since the beginning of the 21st century, declines in the mental well-being of adolescents from high-income countries have been well-documented. Poorer mental well-being can lead to developmental issues, difficulty attaining educational goals, and negatively affect overall health.


High levels of screen time have been shown to negatively impact mental well-being, including the experience of depressive symptoms, which is concerning considering adolescents typically spend a lot of time on their screens. Alternatively, regularly engaging in physical activity has been shown to positively affect mental well-being and even protect against depression.


While available research on the relationship between physical activity, screen time, and mental well-being has indicated that a lot of time on screens and minimal physical activity is detrimental to the psychological health of adolescents, research conducted so far has only focused on single countries or communities as opposed to a larger sample of adolescents.


In the current study, Dr. Khan and colleagues utilized data from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC), which captured the health and well-being of 577,475 adolescents from 42 countries across Europe and North America.


Less time on screens and more physical activity were positively associated with adolescents’ mental well-being and overall life satisfaction.


The researchers write, “Collectively, our findings provide support for the current recreational screen time recommendation of 2 h or less per day and the physical activity recommendation of 60 min or more per day for health and well-being.”


Dr. Khan and colleagues observed that the negative effects of screen time on adolescents seemed to be related to how much time they spent on screens, with girls experiencing lower mental well-being past 2 hours of screen time per day and boys past 4 hours per day.


They encourage future research to investigate how certain types of screen time may or may not differently impact adolescents’ mental well-being, citing the growing research that demonstrates how passive, sedentary behaviour like watching T.V. can increase the risk of depression. In contrast, mentally active sedentary behaviour like reading may protect against depression.


The benefits of physical activity, such as better satisfaction with life and decreased psychosomatic concerns, were supported in this study.


Based on their findings, the researchers advocate for a holistic approach to public health initiatives targeted at lifestyle changes, encouraging the promotion of physical activity and reducing screen time to achieve better outcomes.


Further, they found that physical activity was beneficial to the adolescents’ mental well-being regardless of how much screen time they had. On the other hand, screen time negatively affected psychosomatic concerns even among adolescents who engaged in regular physical activity.


Moreover, the researchers’ work highlights gender disparities in mental well-being, with boys reporting better mental well-being than girls. Yet, their research suggests that the effects of screen time and physical activity are likely similar across genders.


Major strengths of this study were its large sample size and its use of innovative techniques to examine the differences in experiences based on gender. However, a limitation of the study is that its design does not allow the researchers to determine causality in the relationships between screen use, physical activity, and mental well-being.


Additionally, as the data analyzed was collected between 2006 and 2014, there is a chance that it does not represent the experiences of current adolescents. Therefore, further research is needed to examine how different types of screen use and physical activity affect adolescents’ mental well-being.


Overall, this study found important relationships between screen time, physical activity, and well-being using a large sample of adolescents across 42 high-income, Western countries. The findings of this study have implications for public health interventions and research.


The authors conclude:


“Specifically, future public health strategies to promote adolescents’ mental well-being should target reducing screen time and increasing physical activity simultaneously. Given the importance of health behaviours for population health and well-being, future prospective research should investigate the causality of the joint associations of screen time and physical activity and examine interrelationships between screen time types, dose and types of physical activity, and mental well-being of adolescents.”


Originally appeared on www.madinamerica.com

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