Exercise Reduces Suicidality in Bullied Kids

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"Bullying is killing our kids." - Cat Cora, chef

While bullying isn't new, cyber-bullying is quicker, easier, and has a wider reach. Just as we can now protest by tweeting a brief note followed by a hashtag, bullies can hide behind the comfort and secrecy of their social media apps.

The first major bullying research was conducted by Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus in the 1970s. Olweus was motivated by a series of school-age suicides by victims of bullying. He found that bullies seek to gain the affection of others while picking on those they view as vulnerable. Gay and lesbian teens get bullied up to three times more than their heterosexual peers.

I imagine nearly all moviegoers rooted against bullies Biff Tannen in Back to the Future and Regina George in Mean Girls. We empathize with the "little guy." Back in the school hallways, however, life is very different. Bullies generally get away with their behavior because bystanders tacitly support them by not intervening. The consequences of bullying can be catastrophic. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for adolescents in the U.S. and the number one cause in many countries across the globe. Social isolation – often through bullying – is a significant driver. With nearly 20 percent of students in the U.S. reporting that they are being bullied on school property, this is an important issue for us to address.

We have published blogs on research that touts the benefits of exercise on mood, stress, and energy. However, until now there has not been a comprehensive study on the impact of exercise on suicide rates of bullied children.


A study by the University of Vermont evaluated the impact of exercise on suicide rates of teenagers who report being bullied. Over 13,500 high school students who were part of the CDC's National Youth Risk Behavior Survey were carefully tracked. The bullied students who were physically active four or more days per week had a 23 percent lower rate of suicidal ideation and attempts compared with bullied students with less regular activity. The more active group also reported reductions in sadness.


The study's lead author, Jeremy Sibold, associate professor and chair of the Department Rehabilitation and Movement Science at the University or Vermont, said, "Even if one kid is protected because we got them involved in an after-school activity or in a physical education program it's worth it."


This finding comes out at a time when physical education programs are getting slashed across the country. Although physical education has been linked to reduced obesity and improved academic performance, it is being sidelined in favor of classes that are fixated on boosting test scores. Harvard professor Dr. John J. Ratey, said, “There is shrinking P.E. for our kids,” Dr. Ratey. “P.E. teachers are fighting like cats and dogs to hold the line on their jobs and worth, at the same time as there is a dawning awareness that we have missed the boat.”


Nearly half of all high school students reported that they had no physical education classes in an average week, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.


The University of Vermont study concludes: "Considering the often catastrophic and long-lasting consequences of bullying in school-aged children, novel, accessible interventions for victims of such conduct [such as physical activity programs] are sorely needed."


René Veenstra, a sociologist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, says that 85 percent of bullying cases occur to gain attention. Let's work on increasing the attention that is given to proven measures, including exercise, to help victims of bullying.

We'd love to hear from you. How have your experiences with bullying affected you and how has exercise helped you deal with them? Comment below or on our Facebook page at facebook.com/flytefitness, or tweet us at @flytefitness.

Be Flyte Fit,

Jeremy Greenberg
Co-Founder & CEO
Flyte Fitness

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