To synthesise reviews investigating physical activity and depression, anxiety, self-esteem
and cognitive functioning in children and adolescents and to assess the association
between sedentary behaviour and mental health by performing a brief review.
Searches were performed in 2010. Inclusion criteria specified review articles reporting
chronic physical activity and at least one mental health outcome that included depression,
anxiety/stress, self-esteem and cognitive functioning in children or adolescents.
Four review articles reported evidence concerning depression, four for anxiety, three
for self-esteem and seven for cognitive functioning. Nine primary studies assessed
associations between sedentary behaviour and mental health. Physical activity has
potentially beneficial effects for reduced depression, but the evidence base is limited.
Intervention designs are low in quality, and many reviews include cross-sectional
studies. Physical activity interventions have been shown to have a small beneficial
effect for reduced anxiety, but the evidence base is limited. Physical activity can
lead to improvements in self-esteem, at least in the short term. However, there is
a paucity of good quality research. Reviews on physical activity and cognitive functioning
have provided evidence that routine physical activity can be associated with improved
cognitive performance and academic achievement, but these associations are usually
small and inconsistent. Primary studies showed consistent negative associations between
mental health and sedentary behaviour.
Association between physical activity and mental health in young people is evident,
but research designs are often weak and effects are small to moderate. Evidence shows
small but consistent associations between sedentary screen time and poorer mental