The Link between Hair Cortisol Levels and Physical Activity in a Study of Young Adolescents
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. College of Nursing Honors Theses; 2018
This study explored associations between different levels of physical activity and cortisol levels in hair among adolescents. Although research has found that physical activity can be beneficial for reducing illness and stress in populations, studies have found a correlation between strenuous physical activity and elevated salivary and hair cortisol levels. This study employs secondary analysis of data from a representative sub-sample of 534 adolescents aged 11 to 17 years who participated in two linked NIH funded studies on the health and well-being of urban adolescents. Through an in-home survey, youth were asked three questions on the intensity and volume of physical activity from the previous week, rating from mild to strenuous physical activity, and the number of days the activity was done. The three variables – mild, moderate and strenuous activity - were analyzed via regression analyses as continuous measures to assess linear associations. No significant linear relationships were found with this analysis, therefore the recommended reference range of exercising 6-7 times a week was compared to exercise categories based on frequency of activity (never, 1-3 times weekly, 4-5 times weekly, and 8 or more times weekly) . The results found that hair cortisol levels were significantly higher in adolescents who strenuously exercised eight times or more a week in comparison to those who strenuously exercised 6-7 hours per week as recommended(p<0.05). For moderate physical activity, all frequencies of exercise had marginally or significantly higher hair cortisol levels than those who exercised six to seven times a week. No relationships were found between hair cortisol and mild physical activity. The data suggest that strenuous or moderate physical activity over eight times a week was correlated with higher hair cortisol levels compared to the recommended amount of daily exercise. In addition, the data found that those who do not engage in any moderate physical activity had higher hair cortisol levels compared to the reference range. This suggests that hair cortisol might be an important biomarker in the research of studying the effects of physical activity on physiological measures of stress.
Denman Research Forum 2018: Second Place in the Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Academic Major: Nursing (RN to BSN)
The National Institutes of Health
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