Physical Activity Benefits Children and can also Help Kids Cope with Depression

children playing soccer at the park

Physical Activity Benefits Children and can also Help Kids Cope with Depression

Past studies indicate physically active adults are at lower risk of developing depression. Conversely, this same influence has not been studied in children until recently.

A recent new study showed children experience the same positive effects as adults who are physically active.  The research gave the word “active” a definition of “moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) that leaves kids sweaty or out of breath.”

Their findings? Physically active 6-year-olds and 8-year-olds showed fewer symptoms of depression when they were examined two years later.

Scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and NTNU Social Research conducted the study by following hundreds of children over a period of four years. They were looking for a correlation between physical activity and depression symptoms.

Physically active children experienced fewer symptoms of depression.

Almost 800 children were examined at six years of age and approximately 700 of them also underwent follow-up examinations at eight and ten years old. The researchers measured physical activity using accelerometers, (a sensor that allows smart phones to perceive movement), and parents were asked questions about their child’s mental health.

“Being active, getting sweaty and roughhousing offers more than just physical health benefits. They also protect against depression,” says Tonje Zahl, a PhD candidate at NTNU. Zahl is the first author on the study’s conclusions recently published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Two years after the study began, the results of the study showed that six- and eight-year-olds who were physically active exhibited less symptoms of depression.

This is significant because it indicates that physical activity aids in inhibiting depression.

Another important observation was noted by Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor in NTNU’s Department of Psychology. He says “This is important to know, because it may suggest that physical activity can be used to prevent and treat depression already in childhood”

While physical activity was found to help prevent depressive symptoms, it was also noted that no correlation between depression and a sedentary lifestyle was found.

The bottom line: It’s important to encourage physical activity, allowing children to get their heart rates up. Encourage outdoor running, playing and jumping. Let them go for bike rides and run on the playground. Simply decreasing online or  “screen time” is not sufficient. Kids should increase their physical activity.

*See more at the NTNU published findings titled Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Symptoms of Major Depression in Middle Childhood

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