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Physical activity and exercise in youth mental health promotion: a scoping review
  1. Michaela Pascoe1,2,
  2. Alan P Bailey3,
  3. Melinda Craike1,4,
  4. Tim Carter5,
  5. Rhiannon Patten1,
  6. Nigel Stepto1,6,7,8,
  7. Alexandra Parker1,3
  1. 1Institute for Health and Sport, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2Cancer Experiances Reasearch, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health and Centre for Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  4. 4Mitchell Institute, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  5. 5Institute of Mental Health, School of Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, UK
  6. 6Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  7. 7Australian Institute for Musculoskeletal Science, Victoria Universit, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  8. 8Medicine-Western Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Science, Melbourne University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michaela Pascoe; michaela.pascoe{at}


Background/Aim This scoping review examined the breadth and outcomes of controlled trials testing the effect of physical activity and exercise interventions across all mental health outcomes for mental health promotion and indicated prevention studies in young people.

Methods The literature search was conducted using ‘Evidence Finder’.

Results Thirty publications were included. Available evidence suggested that interventions of varying intensity may lead to a reduction in depression symptoms and that moderate-to-vigorous-intensity and light-intensity interventions may reduce anxiety symptoms. Effects of physical activity/exercise interventions on additional mental health outcomes were also shown; however, the number of studies was small, indicating a limited evidence base. Robust research regarding the effects of physical activity/exercise on mental health promotion and as an indicated prevention strategy in young people is lacking.

Conclusion The available evidence suggests that physical activity/exercise is a promising mental health promotion and early intervention strategy and warrants further investigation.

  • well-being
  • physical activity
  • prevention
  • adolescent

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  • Contributors MP, AP, MC conducted the literature search. MP designed the figures and tables. All authors contributed to study design. MP, AP, APB, NS, RP, TC contributed to data collection. MP, AP, APB, NS, RP, TC contributed to data analysis and data interpretation. All authors contributed to writing and reviewing the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.