The Effects of Exercise on Adolescents With a Mental Health Disorder


The Effects of Exercise on Adolescents With a Mental Health Disorder

In today’s culture, social media, technology, and a sedentary lifestyle are becoming more normalized. As a result, most adolescents get less exercise than experts advise. This lack of exercise results in an increased risk of mental health disorders and symptoms of mental health conditions that are present. Therefore, it is particularly important that adolescents with mental health disorders learn the value of exercise and how to make it a regular part of their lives.

Adolescents are at a developmental point in their lives where they can learn how to integrate exercise into their daily routines. Helping them to do so will improve their mental health – now and in the future. The habits that they learn in adolescence are likely to be continued into adulthood.

How Exercise Impacts Mental Health Disorders

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health disorders found in adolescents. Therefore, finding methods to help adolescents manage them is important. Exercise can help.


As a serious mood disorder, depression is on the rise in adolescents. However, exercise can be extremely beneficial. Researchers have found that adolescents who get an adequate amount of exercise have decreased risk of depression and related symptoms. This illustrates the importance of exercise for adolescents, especially those struggling with depression.

Getting the right amount of exercise is important when considering depression. While many teens do not get enough exercise, some are more prone to overdo it. Excessive exercise can be damaging for adolescents, causing an increase in depression. Therefore, adolescents need a balance of movement and rest to optimize mental health.


Feeling anxious is normal in certain situations. However, anxiety as a mental health disorder is more complex. Catching it early in adolescents can help them to heal and build coping skills to manage their anxiety into adulthood. Managing anxiety will look different for each individual, but tools such as exercise can help.

Researchers have found that low- and medium-intensity exercise helps adolescents decrease symptoms of anxiety, while high-intensity exercise was not found to be effective. Each individual will differ in terms of how they respond to exercising. However, helping adolescents increase their exercise habits is a good place to start. A change as simple as going on a walk a few days a week can make a difference in symptoms for an adolescent with anxiety.

Improving Overall Mental Health With Exercise

While exercising indeed helps adolescents who struggle with mental health disorders, it is also true that it can boost and improve overall mental health regardless of mental health disorders. By exercising, teens can improve both self-esteem and self-control, which are both factors of overall mental health.


It is common for adolescents to struggle with low self-esteem. Those struggling with addiction and mental health disorders are even more likely to. However, exercising can help adolescents by impacting their self-esteem. Whether through combat sports, competitive sports, or individual outdoor activities, exercise will be beneficial.

Researchers have found that when adolescents incorporate more movement into their lives, their self-esteem increases. Multiple factors likely play a role in this change. When adolescents learn new skills and push themselves physically, they learn that they can change and meet their goals. In turn, they build confidence in their abilities.


Exercising is often thought of as an activity that requires self-control. It takes adhering to a schedule and overriding the impulse to stay sitting on the couch. However, there is a bi-directional relationship between the two. A study published in 2019 found that a single bout of exercise helps individuals increase self-control. The researchers define self-control as the ability to override impulses, desires, or responses based on habit.

Self-control is an essential aspect of mental health, one that many adolescents struggle with. The external world is always shifting and changing, but teens need to be able to control their responses in multiple situations. This will help them make choices rather than act impulsively or follow along out of habit. As exercising contributes to one’s self-control, it is one way to help teens improve this skill and their overall mental health.

Exercise Benefits Both Physical and Mental Health

As a result of our sedentary culture, many adolescents struggle with physical health issues such as obesity from an early age. Helping adolescents to get more exercise can help them maintain a healthy weight, reduce their risk of disease, and strengthen their bodies. Additionally, it can help their overall mental health, as mental and physical health are closely related. Therefore, a lack of exercise not only impacts physical health but also commonly results in mental health challenges.

Helping adolescents build a framework for exercising will impact them into adulthood. This is because when teens begin to live independently, they often continue habits from adolescence. Therefore, if they have a solid understanding of how to incorporate exercise into their life, they are more likely to be successful in maintaining it as adults.

As our culture changes, adolescents tend to have decreased amounts of physical activity in their daily lives and exercise. This can decrease mental health and worsen mental health conditions that are already there. However, exercise can help adolescents improve their mental and physical health and help them maintain it as they become adults. At Sustain Recovery, we use evidence-based treatment modalities to help adolescents improve their awareness and learn new behaviors. Many skills can benefit the mental health and physical health of adolescents – both in the present and further into their lives. To learn more about Sustain Recovery’s programs or to speak with a staff member, call us today at (949) 407-9052