Relationship Between Physical Activity and Suicidal Behaviors Among 65,182 Middle School Students

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The psychosocial benefits of participating in physical activity (PA) are well known; less is known about the relationship between suicidal behaviors and PA among adolescents, especially among middle school-aged youth. This study seeks to fill that gap by assessing the cross-sectional relationship between these variables.


A secondary analysis of the 2010 Tennessee Middle School Youth Risk Behavior Survey data was conducted among 65,182 middle school students. Items examined were PA, sports team engagement, physical education (PE) class, screen time, suicidal behaviors, drug/substance use, extreme weight control behaviors, weight status and weight misperceptions, and selected personal characteristics. Multiple logistic regression analysis was used to estimate the association between PA, sports team engagement, and PE class attendance on suicidal behaviors.


Sports team engagement was significantly associated with suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts even after controlling for other important variables. There was no relationship, however, between total PA or PE class attendance in univariate or multivariate models, respectively.


Findings suggest that sports team engagement is associated with reduced risk for suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts, whereas, no relationships were found for PA or PE class attendance. Asking adolescents questions about sports team engagement may help clinicians screen for risk of suicidal behaviors.