Originally published by 2 Minute Medicine® (view original article). Reused on AccessMedicine with permission.

1. In this systematic review, adolescents (aged 10-19 years) showed clinical improvements in mild to moderate anxiety and depression in response to structured exercise.

2. Furthermore, the self-selected intensity of the structured exercise intervention impacted the enjoyment and commitment of individuals.

Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)

Many adolescents worldwide suffer from mental health disorders, including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Current treatments, which include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medications, and other psychosocial therapies, are associated with challenges regarding adherence and lack of efficacy. Although the exploration of alternative treatments such as exercise has been growing, there are a limited number of studies that have investigated the therapeutic effects of structured adult-led exercise interventions. This systematic review aimed to identify any benefit structured exercise provides to adolescents with mild to moderate mental health issues.

Of the 3506 articles screened, nine were included, six of which were randomized control trials. The systematic review was conducted using PRISMA guidelines to include studies of adolescents 10-19 years old with mild to moderate mental health problems. Included studies had an intervention group participating in adult-led structured exercise and a control group being treated with CBT, medications, educational intervention, or no treatment. Studies that included participants with severe mental health problems were excluded. The effect of structured exercise on mental health conditions was measured using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The primary outcome was the change in mental health symptoms measured through various means in each respective study.

The most commonly reported outcome measures were improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety following varying lengths of structured exercise treatment. Three of the included studies found that self-selected intensity circuit training in a group setting showed a significant benefit for depression at the 6-month follow-up compared to the control. Two of these studies found that intensity choice had an impact on adherence and enjoyment of the regimen. Two other studies found a significant decrease in cognitive anxiety in response to aerobic exercise. However, the study was limited by the high heterogeneity of outcome measures. Nonetheless, this study showed that adult-structured exercise may significantly improve adolescent mental health symptoms.

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