Individuals who experienced adverse childhood experiences but also played team sports as teens were less likely to have mental health problems in adulthood than those with childhood challenges who did not play sports, based on data from nearly 5,000 individuals.
Physical and mental health problems are more prominent throughout life among those exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and physical activity in general and team sports in particular have been shown to improve mental health, wrote Molly C. Easterlin, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues.
In a study published in, the researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to compare the development of depression, anxiety, or depressive symptoms among those with childhood ACEs who did and did not participate in team sports in adolescence.
Overall, team sports participation was significantly associated with reduced odds of depression (adjusted odds ratio, 0.76), anxiety (aOR, 0.70), and depressive symptoms (aOR, 0.85) in young adulthood for individuals with ACEs, compared with those with ACEs who did not play team sports.
Of 9,668 adolescents in the study, 4,888 individuals reported one or more ACEs and 2,084 reported two or more ACEs. The researchers compared data from the 1994-1995 school year when participants were in grades 7-12 and in 2008 to assess their mental health as young adults (aged 24-32 years).
No significant differences in associations appeared between sports participation and mental health between males and females.
The results were limited by several factors including the study design that did not allow for causality and the potential social desirability bias that might lead to underreporting ACEs, Dr. Easterlin and associates noted.
Nonetheless, “given that participation in team sports was associated with improved adult mental health among those with ACEs,and parents might consider enrolling their children with ACEs in team sports,” they wrote.
Dr. Easterlin is supported by the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center via the UCLA National Clinician Scholars Program. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.
SOURCE: Easterlin MC et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2019 May 28. .