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Can team sports help teens overcome childhood adversity?

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Children who suffer adverse experiences like abuse and neglect may be less likely to have mental health problems in adulthood if they play team sports as teenagers, a U.S. study suggests.

Adverse childhood experiences, commonly called ACEs, can include witnessing parents fight or go through a divorce, having a parent with a mental illness or substance abuse problem, or suffering from sexual, physical or emotional abuse. ACEs have been linked to what’s known as toxic stress, or wear and tear on the body that leads to physical and mental health problems that often continue from one generation to the next.

The current study focused on whether team sports – which have been linked to a variety of physical and psychological benefits – might diminish the potential for lasting mental health problems among adults with a history of ACEs. Researchers followed 4,888 teens exposed to ACEs and 4,780 teens without this exposure for more than a decade, starting when they were 15 years old on average.

Teens who played team sports had 24 percent lower odds of receiving a depression diagnosis by young adulthood and 30 percent lower odds of receiving an anxiety diagnosis, the study found.