A new study found that boys who participate in sports in early childhood are less likely to experience depressive and anxiety symptoms (known as emotional distress) in middle childhood.
The study led by Université de Montréal psycho educator Marie-Josée Harbec. published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, said that the boys who experience less emotional distress in middle childhood are more likely to be physically active in early adolescence.
Harbec noted that they examined the long-term and reciprocal relationship in school-aged children between participation in sports and depressive and anxiety symptoms. They also wanted to look into how it was different for Boys and Girls between five and 12 years of age.
“There’s widespread evidence of a crisis these days in childhood physical inactivity, and this may ultimately have implications for later mental and physical health,” the researchers said.
They also examined the sporting and physical activity habits as well at symptoms of emotional distress from ages six to ten years of age to 10 years by the kids’ teachers.
The study found that five year old boys who never participated in sports were more likely between the ages of 6 and 10 to look unhappy and tired. They also had difficulty having fun. They cried a lot and appeared fearful or worried.
“Also, boys who exhibited higher levels of depressive and anxious symptoms during middle childhood were subsequently less physically active at 12 years old. For girls, on the other hand, we did not find any significant changes,” the study said.
The researchers at the Université de Montréal also collaborated with researchers at McGill University and the Childrens Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.
Girls and boys function differently
Boys who engage in sport in preschool might benefit from physical activities that help them develop life skills such as taking initiative, engaging in teamwork and practicing self-control, and build supportive relationships with their peers and adult coaches and instructors, the researchers said.
Moreover, they said that the boys who experience symptoms of depression and anxiety might be more socially isolated and have a decreased level of energy and lower feelings of competence, which could in turn negatively influence engagement in physical activity.
In the case of girls, depression and anxiety risks and protective factors worked differently. The Girls are more likely than boys to seek help from and disclose emotional distress to family, friends or health providers, and psychological support from these social ties protects them better.