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Active adolescence linked to adult mental wellness

ANN/THE STAR – The findings from the second Global State of Mind Study confirm the positive correlation between physical exercise and mental well-being.

Additionally, it reveals a connection between engaging in physical activity during adolescence and experiencing positive mental well-being in adulthood.

Conducted in 2024, this study surveyed over 26,000 participants across 22 countries, including Malaysia.

The results indicate that individuals who engage in more physical exercise tend to have higher State of Mind scores.

Globally, those who maintain regular physical activity levels (defined as 150 minutes or more per week) boasted an average State of Mind score of 67 out of 100.

In contrast, individuals classified as inactive (with less than 30 minutes of physical activity per week) scored significantly lower, with an average State of Mind score of just 54.

The State of Mind score is calculated based on the accumulative mean scores across 10 cognitive and emotional traits, ie positive, content, relaxed, focused, composed, resilient, confident, alert, calm and energised.

PHOTO: FREEPIK

The study, initiated by Japanese sportswear corporation Asics, also uncovered that being physically active in your teenage years directly impacts your mind later in life.

The study pinpointed the ages of 15 to 17 as the most critical years for staying active, and when dropping out of exercise significantly affects your mental state for years to come.

Those who regularly exercised during these three years of age were found to be more likely to remain active later in life, as well as reporting higher State of Mind scores as adults (64 vs 61), compared to those who weren’t active during those years.

In comparison, respondents who dropped out of exercise before the age of 15 displayed the lowest activity levels and lowest State of Mind scores in adulthood. Thirty per cent were still inactive as adults, and were shown to be 11 per cent less focused, 10 per cent less confident, 10 per cent less calm and 10 per cent less composed, compared to those who were able to exercise throughout adolescence.

In fact, every year a teenager remained engaged in regular exercise was associated with improved State of Mind scores in adulthood.

Those who stopped exercising before the age of 15 displayed an average State of Mind score 15 per cent lower than the global average, while a decline in physical activity at 16-17 years and before the age of 22 reduced their average scores by 13 per cent and six per cent respectively.

Worryingly, the study also uncovered an exercise generation gap, with younger generations being increasingly less active.

Fifty-seven per cent of the Silent Generation (aged 78 years and older) said they were active daily in their childhoods, compared to just 19 per cent of Gen Z (aged 18 to 27), showing a concerning trend of younger generations dropping out of physical activity earlier and in larger numbers than the generations before them.

Globally, members of Gen Z had the lowest State of Mind scores with an average of 62, compared to the Baby Boomers’ 68 and the Silent Generation’s 70.

Leading researcher in exercise and mental health Professor Brendon Stubbs from King’s College London in the United Kingdom, said: “It is worrying to see this decline in activity levels from younger respondents at such a critical age, particularly as the study uncovered an association with lower well-being in adulthood.

“Gen Zs across the world are already exhibiting the lowest State of Mind scores in comparison to the Silent Generation, so this could be hugely impactful for future mental well-being across the world.”

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