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Playing Sports During Teen Years Can Help Heal Effects Of Childhood Trauma

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New research linked participation in team sports to a decreased likelihood of anxiety and depression among teens who have childhood trauma. However, those who have adverse childhood experiences are less likely to have access to sports.   ( Keith Johnston | Pixabay )

Participating in team sports can reduce the risk of anxiety and depression for people who have experienced childhood trauma,

In a new study, researchers analyzed data of 9,668 individuals who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Participants were assessed from 1994-1995 when they were in grades 7 to 12 and then 14 years later in 2008, as adults.

The goal of the study published in JAMA Pediatrics is to evaluate the impacts of participating in team sports to the mental health of children who had adverse childhood experiences.

Benefits Of Team Sports Among Young People

During the first wave of the study, the researchers asked the participants if they participate (or plan to participate) in any team sports. During the second wave, the researchers asked whether the participants had received a diagnosis for anxiety or depression. If not, they were tested for symptoms.

The study found that among those who have adverse childhood experiences, participation in team sports is associated with a significant decrease in the likelihood of receiving anxiety and depression in adulthood. The impact is clearer for boys than girls but Molly Easterlin, a pediatrician and the first author of the study, said the difference might be because, at the time, girls' sports were not as supported and funded as they are today.

Because of the nature of the study, researchers could not pinpoint exactly why adolescents who have adverse childhood experiences gain benefit from team sports. However, Easterlin told NPR that being part of a group might be the key.

"There may be something powerful about that team environment [in sports], where you're in competition, being coached in a certain way and interacting with your teammates towards a common goal," she stated.

Why Access To Sports Is Important

Amanda Paluch, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine who was not involved in the study, commented that young people in low-income families who have adverse childhood experiences are less likely to have access to team sports.

A report by the Aspen Institute published in 2018 revealed that children from familes that earn less than $50,000 a year have reduced participation in sports over the last decade.

The researchers hope that the findings would encourage policymakers to boost sports participation, especially among children at risk of childhood trauma.

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