Sport, dance and young people’s wellbeing: what works?

Today, What Works Wellbeing has published new international evidence on the impact sport, dance and physical activity have on the wellbeing of 15-24 year olds.

Taking part in physical activity like sport and dance can be good for our wellbeing. It makes us more satisfied and happier with life, and feel less anxious and depressed.

However, most of what we know is about adults. The newly-published briefing is based on a systematic review that was carried out to investigate how taking part in sport and dance affects the subjective wellbeing of healthy young people between 15 and 24 years. Subjective wellbeing describes the good and bad feelings that arise from what people do and think: feelings like happiness or sadness, meaningfulness or futility, relaxation or stress.

Key findings:

  • Yoga, and the Tai-chi like movements of Baduanjin-qigong, provided strong evidence of their effectiveness at reducing feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger, while improving attention spans and how the young people reported their overall wellbeing.
  • Empowering young girls through peer-supported exercise has a positive effect on their self-belief.
  • Aerobic and hip-hop dance can lead to greater increases in happiness compared to other activities like ice-skating or body conditioning.
  • Taking part in ‘exer-gaming’ programmes, like Wii Fit, in groups can help encourage overweight young people to participate in physical activity and make friends.

The research was carried out by What Works Wellbeing's culture and sport research team in Brunel University London, The London School of Economics and the Universities of Winchester and Brighton.

Download the full reviw, briefing and case studies from the What Works Wellbing website.