Researchers say teen girls who exercise regularly are less likely to engage in violent behaviors, such as carrying weapons or fighting in a gang.

The study presented on May 6 at the annual Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) meeting in Washington, D.C. sought to find a link between physical activities and the possibility of reduced violence.

"Violence in neighborhoods spans the entire length of this country and disproportionately affects the poor and racial and ethnic minorities. It results in significant losses to victims, perpetrators, families and communities and costs our country billions of dollars," said Noe D. Romo, lead author and primary care research fellow in community health at Columbia University.

"There is a need for innovative methods to identify potential interventions to address this issue and lessen the burden it is having on our society."

Researchers examined the responses of 1,312 students from inner-city high schools in New York in a 2008 survey. Some of the questions asked how frequently they exercise, from doing sit-ups to running within the past four weeks or participating in sports in the past year.

Students also had to answer whether they carried weapons in the last 30 days or were involved in fights or gangs in the past year.

Out of the study, 56 percent were female adolescents, about three-quarters of the girls were Latino, and 19 percent were African-American. Results showed that the girls who regularly exercised had lower odds of being involved in violence.

Specifically, female adolescents who ran for more than 20 minutes reduced their chances of carrying a weapon, while playing sports in the past year lowered their odds of both carrying a weapon and being in fights or gangs. Exercising for more than 10 days or even doing more than 20 sit-ups in the past four weeks decreased their risk of participating in a gang.

Adolescent males were also given the survey, but the levels of exercise were not linked to cutting risks of violent behaviors. Researchers reason that it may be because many of the males did not complete all the questions.

"This study is only a start," Romo said. "It suggests a potential relationship between regular exercise and decreased involvement in violent behavior."

The team hopes to produce more studies that confirm this link. Additionally, it wants to examine whether effective interventions with exercise could reduce youth participation in violence.

The abstract of the study could be found here.