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Participation in sports at a young age can lead to fewer behavioral and emotional problems

A study suggests that recreational activity can be beneficial to development

Photo (c) Lorado - Getty Images
Getting your kids involved in sports or other recreational activities can do wonders for their health, but a recent study shows it can also positively impact their development in other ways.

Researchers from the Université de Montréal in Canada say that encouraging young children to participate in sports can lead to fewer behavioral problems when they get older, and it also led to fewer emotional problems like distress, anxiety, shyness, and social withdrawal.

"The results revealed that children who participated consistently from ages 6 to 10 showed fewer instances of those factors at age 12 than their counterparts who did not engage in physical activity in a consistent way," said Frédéric Brière, the study’s lead author. "We found these benefits above and beyond pre-existing individual and family characteristics."

Promoting development

To come to their conclusions, the researchers analyzed participants who took part in the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. Mothers of children aged 6 to 10 were asked to report whether their kids engaged in organized sports or recreational activities. Then, at age 12, the teachers of those same children were asked to report about levels of emotional distress.

The results showed that children were less anxious, shy, chronically distressed, and withdrawn if they participated in organized physical activity. The researchers believe that the structure of these activities allowed children to develop physical, mental, and social skills that they otherwise may not have been able to. Brière points out that better emotional stability is key to proper development.

"Getting kids actively involved in organized sport seems to promote global development. This involvement appears to be good on a socio-emotional level and not just because of physical benefits,” he said.

“Being less emotionally distressed at the juncture between elementary and high school is a priceless benefit for children, as they are about to enter a much larger universe with bigger academic challenges. This research supports current parental guidelines promoting children's involvement in physical activity."

The full study has been published in the journal Pediatric Research.

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