“A child needs to get used to moving early. Don’t necessarily say no to screen time, but vary the activities,” say the researchers.

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Children who are physically active in their early childhood exhibit better mental health a few years later and are more likely to be physically active in their early teens, a new study by two Montreal researchers concludes.


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Those children are notably less likely to have symptoms of depression and anxiety as they grow older, the researchers say.

“What we found is that children who were physically active in early childhood, at age 5, had better mental health compared to those who were not physically active,” said Marie-Josée Harbec, who conducted the study as part of her doctoral thesis directed by Linda Pagani, professor of psychoeducation at the Université de Montréal.

Physical activity while they are preschoolers can help children acquire skills for daily living, such as initiative, teamwork and self-control, the researchers believe.

It can also help them build meaningful and helpful relationships with their peers and the adults who train and teach them.

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The researchers examined sports and physical activity habits reported by children ages 5 to 12 and their parents. They also examined teacher-reported symptoms of emotional distress of students ages 6 to 10. The cohort studied consisted of just over 1,400 children.

“We did not find any significant results in our analyzes among the girls,” Harbec said. “Which is not to say that there are no benefits of physical activity on girls’ mental health, but it does say that perhaps there is something else that explains why girls who are more active do not necessarily have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.” .

Children who are active at a young age are drawn into a kind of “vicious cycle” that leads them to remain active in early adolescence, he said.


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The message for parents is to promote physical activity for their children. But that has to mean playing hockey five times a week; A hike up the mountain or a bike trip will work just as well, the researchers said.

“Play outside and try as much as possible to keep your child away from (computer) screens,” Harbec said. “It is necessary for a child to get used to moving early. Don’t necessarily say no to screen time, but vary activities, particularly physical ones. Humans are creatures of habit; you learn the desire to move ”.

Parents must lead by example. A 5-year-old rarely needs encouragement to go out and play, but the chances of success are even greater if the parents are also involved and everyone benefits.

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The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from McGill University and the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Eastern Ontario.



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