UAE: Lack of exercise among Gen Z raises concerns about future mental health

Study reveals the ages of 15 to 17 are vital years to stay active, and when dropping out of exercise seriously affects mental state for years to come


Ashwani Kumar

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People engage in their evening workout at Al Mamzar beach Dubai. KT file photo: Shihab
People engage in their evening workout at Al Mamzar beach Dubai. KT file photo: Shihab

Published: Thu 18 Apr 2024, 10:49 AM

Lack of exercise habits among UAE's Gen Z compared to earlier generations can potentially impact their future mental health, a new study by a sportswear company revealed.

Japan-based ASICS conducted comprehensive research to affirm a direct link between physical activity during teenage years and positive mental wellbeing in adulthood.

ASICS' second global State of Mind study involved more than 26,000 respondents across 22 countries, including the UAE. It found that the more people exercise, the higher their state of mind scores.

Globally, the average state of mind score was 65 out of 100. While the UAE scored 66, it was two points less than the 2022 stats of 68. China led the table with 78, a point higher than its 2022 stats of 77.

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Gen Z physically inactive

The study uncovered an exercise generation gap, with the younger generation being increasingly less active. In the UAE, 80 per cent of baby boomers (born between the mid-1940s and 60s) said they exercised daily in their childhoods, compared to just 23 per cent of Gen Z (those born between the mid-1990s and 2010). It indicated a concerning trend of younger generations dropping out of physical activity earlier and in larger numbers than the generations before.

"It is worrying to see this decline in activity levels from younger respondents at such a critical age, particularly as the study uncovered an association with lower wellbeing in adulthood," said professor Brendon Stubbs, a top researcher in exercise and mental health from King's College London, who led the study.

15 to 17 most critical years

The study uncovered that being physically active in the teenage years directly impacted an individual's mind later in life. Respondents who engaged in exercise throughout their adolescence reported higher activity levels and state of mind scores as adults.

"Gen Zs across the world are already exhibiting the lowest state of mind scores (62/100) in comparison to the Silent Generation (70/100), so this could be hugely impactful for future mental wellbeing across the world," Stubbs noted.

The study pointed out that the ages of 15 to 17 are the most critical years for staying active, and when dropping out of exercise significantly affects their mental state for years to come. Those who regularly exercise at 15 to 17 years old are more likely to remain active later in life and report higher state of mind scores as adults (64/100 versus 61/100) than those who weren't active during these years.

In comparison, respondents who dropped out of exercise before age 15 displayed the lowest activity levels and state of mind scores in adulthood.

In the UAE, these inactive adults reported being 7 per cent less focused, 6 per cent less alert, and 6 per cent less positive compared to those who exercised throughout adolescence.

Regular exercise matters

Every year a teenager remains engaged in regular exercise, which is associated with improved state of mind scores in adulthood. Those who stopped exercising before the age of 15 display an average state of mind score 15 per cent lower than the global average, while a decline in physical activity at 16 to 17 years and before the age of 22 reduced their average scores by 13 per cent and 6 per cent.

Ana Seixas, head of marketing at ASICS Middle East, said: "In today's fast-paced and screen-dominated world, the ASICS State of Mind study underscores a crucial truth – how staying active and mental health are interdependent. Movement is not only important for your physical health but is a lifeline for your future mental wellbeing."

The study took responses from about 1,000 people in each country between November 17 and December 21, 2023.


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