Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity confers protective benefits for internalizing disorders among Canadian children and youth with disabilities


Children and youth with disabilities (CYD) have a higher prevalence of mental health problems than their typically developing peers. Extensive research has established the beneficial effects of physical activity (PA) for mental health outcomes, however, this relationship has received limited attention among CYD. Using a subsample of data derived from the National Physical Activity Measurement study, this study examined the relationship between PA and mental health outcomes for CYD. Parents (N = 334) of school-aged children and youth (276 boys) with single or comorbid diagnosis of developmental, sensory, physical and/or other disabilities completed online proxy-reported measures of their child's moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) behaviour using the International Physical Activity Questionnaire as well as internalizing (i.e., emotional/peer symptoms) and externalizing (i.e., conduct/behavioural symptoms) problems using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Results showed 59% and 53% of CYD scored at or above the "slightly raised" criterion for internalizing and externalizing problems, respectively. Using linear regression analysis, findings revealed MVPA significantly predicts internalizing problems (R2 = .04, ? = -0.15, p = .01), but not externalizing problems (? = 0.01, p = .83), after adjusting for age and gender. Examining each disability type revealed MVPA is only a significant predictor of internalizing problems for children with developmental disabilities (R2 = .04, ? = -0.16, p = .03). Overall, findings suggest MVPA may have protective effects for internalizing disorders among CYD, particularly those with developmental disabilities. Future studies using balanced designs should investigate whether the magnitude of this relationship differs depending on type of disability.

Acknowledgments: Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities