Staying active from ages 15 to 17 important for adult mental well-being

Study respondents who stopped exercising regularly before the age of 15 displayed the lowest activity levels and lowest State of Mind scores in adulthood. — Filepic posed by models

The results of the second Global State of Mind Study reaffirms a positive link between physical exercise and mental well-being, and uncovers a link between being physically active in teenage years and positive mental well-being in adulthood.

The 2024 Study of over 26,000 respondents across 22 countries, including Malaysia, found that the more people exercise, the higher their State of Mind scores.

Across the globe, respondents who were regularly active (i.e. do 150 minutes or more of physical activity per week) had an average State of Mind score of 67 out of 100, while inactive people (i.e. have less than 30 minutes of physical activity per week) had a much lower State of Mind score of just 54.

The State of Mind score is calculated based on the accumulative mean scores across ten cognitive and emotional traits, i.e. positive, content, relaxed, focused, composed, resilient, confident, alert, calm and energised.

The study, initiated by Japanese sportswear corporation Asics, also uncovered that being physically active in your teenage years directly impacts your mind later in life.

The study pinpointed the ages of 15 to 17 as the most critical years for staying active, and when dropping out of exercise significantly affects your mental state for years to come.

Those who regularly exercised during these three years of age were found to be more likely to remain active later in life, as well as reporting higher State of Mind scores as adults (64 vs 61), compared to those who weren’t active during those years.

In comparison, respondents who dropped out of exercise before the age of 15 displayed the lowest activity levels and lowest State of Mind scores in adulthood.

Thirty percent were still inactive as adults, and were shown to be 11% less focused, 10% less confident, 10% less calm and 10% less composed, compared to those who were able to exercise throughout adolescence.

In fact, every year a teenager remained engaged in regular exercise was associated with improved State of Mind scores in adulthood.

Those who stopped exercising before the age of 15 displayed an average State of Mind score 15% lower than the global average, while a decline in physical activity at 16-17 years and before the age of 22 reduced their average scores by 13% and 6% respectively.

Worryingly, the study also uncovered an exercise generation gap, with younger generations being increasingly less active.

Fifty-seven percent of the Silent Generation (aged 78 years and older) said they were active daily in their childhoods, compared to just 19% of Gen Z (aged 18 to 27), showing a concerning trend of younger generations dropping out of physical activity earlier and in larger numbers than the generations before them.

Globally, members of Gen Z had the lowest State of Mind scores with an average of 62, compared to the Baby Boomers’ 68 and the Silent Generation’s 70.

Professor Brendon Stubbs, a leading researcher in exercise and mental health from King’s College London in the United Kingdom, said: "It is worrying to see this decline in activity levels from younger respondents at such a critical age, particularly as the study uncovered an association with lower well-being in adulthood.

"Gen Zs across the world are already exhibiting the lowest State of Mind scores in comparison to the Silent Generation, so this could be hugely impactful for future mental well-being across the world.”

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