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Recent Study: How Exercise Can Help Overweight Teens

By Rob Poulos...

While obesity is an issue that affects people of all ages, with more and more adolescents dealing with being moderately to seriously overweight, the effects are a bit more pronounced.

Obesity is associated with a litany of health issues, ranging from diabetes to chronic fatigue and hearth complications, overweight adolescents are also at an increased risk of body dissatisfaction, social alienation and low self esteem. As awkward as the teenage years can be for those who fall within the average weight range, studies have shown that those who are even slightly overweight can deal with additional mental and physical issues.

Dr. Gary Goldfield, a registered psychologist, clinical researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, and Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa, recently set out to study how the effects of exercise may help improve the self esteem and overall body image of overweight teens who were struggling with obesity. As recently published in The Journal of Pediatric Psychology, the results showed how even a little bit of exercise can go a long way.

The study involved a ten-week trial with a group of 30 adolescents who ranged in age from 12-17. The group was randomized to twice weekly laboratory-based sessions of stationary cycling where the participant was allowed to either listen to the music of their choice, or play an interactive video game of their choosing during their session of light-to-moderate cycling. The music and video games were used as a form of distraction from any perceived feeling of discomfort during the sessions, meaning that the participant would not have to focus solely on the exercise that they were doing. While the sessions were scheduled for 60-minutes, the child could stop at any point of their choosing.

Throughout the study, the children were asked to self-report on measures of psycho-social functioning, which included scholastic competence, social competence, athletic competence, body image, and self esteem. The results showed that while few physical differences emerged between the exercise groups over time, the teens did report improvements in perceived scholastic competence, social competence, and several markers of body image including appearance and weight esteem.

According to Dr. Goldfield, who cited related research, exercise induced improvements in body image, perceived social and academic functioning are psychologically empowering to those who struggle with obesity, and it may help buffer against some of the weight-based teasing and discrimination that overweight children deal with on a daily basis.

“The first thing I tell teens and parents struggling with their weight in my practice is to throw away the scale, “said Dr. Gary Goldfield, “These kids face enough challenges with bully and peer pressure today! This new study is proof positive that even a modest dose of exercise is prescriptive for a mental health boost.” “We’re talking about psychological benefits derived from improved fitness resulting from modest amount of aerobic exercise – not a change in weight or body fat,” continued Dr. Goldfield. “If you can improve your physical activity and fitness even minimally, it can help improve your mental health. By teaching kids to focus on healthy active lifestyle behaviors, they are focusing on something they can control.”

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