Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Does Aerobic Exercise Really Enhance Self-Esteem in Children? A Prospective Evaluation in 3rd - 5th Graders

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Does Aerobic Exercise Really Enhance Self-Esteem in Children? A Prospective Evaluation in 3rd - 5th Graders

Article excerpt

Despite the assumption that aerobic exercise has been empirically linked to high self-esteem in children, little research has been done in the area. The purpose of the present study was to examine the link between aerobic exercise, and both self-esteem and problem behaviors in children. A group of 67 children grades 3-5 received an intensive aerobic exercise intervention and a group of 80 grade-matched children received a minimally aerobic exercise program. The duration of the intervention period was 13 weeks. The Self-Perception Profile for Children (SPPC) was administered to both groups pre and post-intervention. Parents similarly completed the Behavioral Rating Index for Children to assess the level of problem behaviors pre and post-intervention. Repeated measures ANOVAs revealed that the exercise curriculum did not significantly improve any of the six SPPC sub-scores of the experimental group as compared to the control group, nor did it diminish their level of problem behaviors. Furthermore, the compariso n group improved their General Self-Worth sub-scores as compared to the experimental group. In general, the results of this study do not support the conclusion that aerobic exercise is linked to increases in self-concept. An alternate possibility for these findings may be the presence of a ceiling effect, where both groups began and finished the implementation period scoring well above average. Additional research is recommended to examine both the immediate and long-term efficacies of children's exercise programs in promoting self-concept.

It seems that the Greeks were correct in espousing, "A sound mind in a sound body." More than two thousand years later it is well documented that vigorous and regular exercise has numerous physical and psychological benefits. Aspects of this phenomenon have been widely studied using both psychometric and physiological means (Biddle, 1993; Calfas & Taylor 1994; Hamachek, 1986; Morgan, 1985; Raglin, 1990; Seraganian, 1993). In a consensus statement issued by the National Institute of Mental Health (Morgan, 1985), it was concluded that there is general agreement that, in adults: (1) Generally, physical fitness is positively associated with mental health and feelings of well-being; (2) Exercise is linked to a reduction in stress in many populations; (3) Exercise has been used effectively to treat mild to moderate depression; (4) Exercise is usually associated with reductions in anxiety disorders such as neuroticism; and (5) Exercise has beneficial emotional effects across all ages and in both sexes.

A positive link between aerobic exercise and self-esteem in adult populations has been abundantly documented (Raglin, 1990). Among older children and adolescents (approximately grade six and up) good evidence exists for such a relationship as well (Calfas & Taylor, 1994). In terms of younger, elementary-aged children, the most comprehensive literature analysis done in recent years (Gruber, 1986) concluded that physical fitness does contribute to an increase in self-esteem. Analyzing 27 controlled experimental studies, Gruber found an average effect size of .47. Although all activities were shown to be effective in all populations, the greatest gains were observed in handicapped (.57 effect size) as compared to normal children (.34) and for aerobic regimens (.89) rather than creative (.29), sports (.40), or motor skill (.32) activities.

Although a number of studies have been done using special populations of children and non-aerobic interventions, since 1980 only three published studies have investigated the effects of aerobic exercise on the self-concept of typically developing elementary-aged children. Percy, Dziuban and Martin (1981) assessed the effects of a seven-week distance running program on fifteen 5th and 6th graders. They found an average post-intervention effect size of 1.41 on the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (1967) as compared to a matched control group, suggesting a modest improvement in self-esteem as a result of running. …

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