Children who regularly engage in sweaty physical activity are less prone to depression. [Photo: Bigstock]

Physically active kids are less prone to depression

31 January, 2017

Natural Health News — Previous studies have shown that adults and young people who are physically active have a lower risk of developing depression. But the same effect has not been studied in children – until now.

Results from a new study are showing that children receive the same beneficial effect from being active. And by ‘active’ we mean the kind of moderate to vigorous physical activity that leaves kids sweaty or out of breath.

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and NTNU Social Research have followed hundreds of children over four years to see if they could find a correlation between physical activity and symptoms of depression.

What you need to know

» New research from Norway suggests that for kids the benefits of physical activity extend beyond physical health.

» In a large study over several years the most physically active kids were also those less prone to depression.

» It is not enough to simply limit kids’ TV or tablet time say the researchers; they key is to get them regularly doing the kind of activities that really work up a sweat.

More than physical benefits

The scientists examined just under 800 children when they were six years old, and conducted follow-up examinations with about 700 of them when they were eight and ten years old. Physical activity was measured with accelerometers, which served as a kind of advanced pedometer, and parents were interviewed about their children’s mental health.

“Being active, getting sweaty and roughhousing offer more than just physical health benefits. They also protect against depression,” says Tonje Zahl, a PhD candidate at NTNU, lead author of the article on the study.

The work, which was recently published in the February 2017 issue of Pediatrics, was conducted as part of a multi-year study of child development and mental health.

Fewer symptoms

Physically active six- and eight-year-olds showed fewer symptoms of depression when they were examined two years later. Physical activity, thus, appears to protect against the development of depression.

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

Steinsbekk stresses that these results should now be tested in randomized studies where researchers increase children’s physical activity and examine whether those who participate in these measures have fewer symptoms of depression over time than those who do not participate.

“We also studied whether children who have symptoms of depression are less physically active over time, but didn’t find that to be the case,” she says.

So the message to parents and health professionals is simple: do what you can to facilitate physical activity, which means that children get a little sweaty and breathless. Try a bike ride or outdoor play. Simply limiting children’s TV or iPad screen time is not enough; kids need actual increased physical activity to reap these benefits.