Physical Activity and Mental Health

School-based Physical Activity Can Play a Valuable Role
04/12/2018 16:20

Childhood and adolescent mental health problems are a global public health concern with increasing costs both for individuals and society.


A recent article led by ICSSPE Office staff suggests that school-based physical activity can play a valuable role in protecting young people from mental illness, and has the potential to save lives through helping to reduce feelings of hopelessness, suicide, and self-harm.


The article, entitled Physical Activity and Mental Health of School-Aged Children and Adolescents: a Rapid Review recently appeared in the International Journal of Physical Education (Volume 55, Issue 1, 2018). It was written by Richard Bailey and Iva Glibo from the ICSSPE Office in Berlin, and by Kristy Howells, Canterbury Christ Church University, UK which is a member of ICSSPE.


The World Health Organisation has described such mental health problems as the most significant health concern for children and adolescents in developed countries. It is estimated that the scale of such varies across countries between 10% and 22%. About half of all adult mental disorders have their origins in adolescence, they are significant causes of personal and community stress, and a leading cause of stigma, isolation and discrimination.


A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research in the UK recently argued that schools should form the first line of intervention with mental health, and listed several advantages of this setting:


  • It would improve accessibility (especially for children and young people from hard-to-reach families);
  • It would better address school-related stressors that contribute to mental health problems;
  • It would significantly ease pressures on specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services;
  • It would help to facilitate other component parts of a whole-school approach. Schools offer a valuable setting for supporting students with mental health problems, because they offer an accessible context for physical activity.


The researchers wanted to discover what had been learned about the contribution of physical activity to mental health problems. Their method was to review published research studies in this area, and progressively narrowing them down to 17 particularly relevant papers.


The evidence discussed in this article highlights the importance of social interactions and resilience, that could be supported through the provision of team sports at school and in clubs. It seems that physical activity is especially valuable for girls in combatting mild to moderate depressive symptoms. Activity selection deserves serious consideration, as inappropriate provision can worsen, rather than help, psychological problems.


ICSSPE members and organisations are invited to share their own research and teaching in the area of physical activity and mental health in future issues of ICSSPE News. Please send your reports to Andrea Blume at