Biol Psychiatry Glob Open Sci. 2023 Feb 10;3(4):875-883. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsgos.2023.02.001. eCollection 2023 Oct.
BACKGROUND: Physical activity is associated with mental health benefits in youth. Here, we used causal inference and triangulation with 2 levels of biology to substantiate relationships between sports participation and dimensional psychopathology in youths.
METHODS: Baseline data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which recruited children from 9 to 10 years of age across the United States, were included in multilevel regression models to assess relationships between lifetime participation in team sports (TS), individual sports, and nonsports activities and Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) scores. We calculated polygenic risk scores for 8 psychiatric disorders to assess interactions with sports exposure on CBCL scores among European descendants. Following rigorous quality control, FreeSurfer-extracted brain magnetic resonance imaging structural data were examined for mediation of CBCL-activities relationships.
RESULTS: Among those with complete data (N = 10,411), causal estimates using inverse probability weighting associated lifetime TS exposure with a 1.05-point reduction in CBCL total (95% CI, -1.54 to -0.56, p < .0001) a relationship that was specific to TS and strengthened with more years of exposure. Associations of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder polygenic loading with CBCL total weakened in European children with TS exposure (n = 4041; beta = -0.93, SE = 0.38, p = .013). Furthermore, TS participation and lower CBCL each associated with increased subcortical volumes (n = 8197). Subcortical volume mediated 5.5% of TS effects on CBCL total.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings support prior associations of TS participation with lower psychopathology in youths through additional studies that demonstrate specificity, dose response, and coherence across 2 levels of biology. Longitudinal studies that further clarify causal relationships may justify interventional studies of TS for high-risk youth.