Doing regular exercise is a good way to help prevent or manage mild to moderate depression. Improved mood, better sleep patterns, increased energy levels and changing the mind’s focus are all benefits from exercise.
The research to support the benefits of exercise in depression is growing, but so far it has mostly been studied in adults.
Children are not immune to depression, so can physical activity help reduce their risk?
Norwegian researchers followed the health and lifestyles of over 700 children from age six through to eight. Accelerometery gave a good estimate of how active the children were. Symptoms of depression were measured through semi-structured clinical interviews of both parents and children.
The children who were the most active and had plenty of regular moderate-to-vigorous exercise were the ones more likely to have fewer symptoms of major depression. Being sedentary, however, did not predict if a child would become depressed, only the number of depressive symptoms they may experience.
For a single observational study the results are interesting, but only give an indication that physical activity may have a role to play in childhood depression. Many other factors might also be at play. For example, children who become depressed may live in families where other members have also experienced depression, so there can also be strong environmental and genetic influences.
These findings are important, linking, for the first time, physical activity to the severity of depression over time during childhood. More sport and play time could help, in a complementary way, to prevent and treat childhood depression.