Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology or NTNU have found that children who are physically active have less symptoms of depression. The researchers have followed around 800 children since they were 6 years old and did a follow up analysis on 700 children when they were 8 and 10 years old measuring physical activity levels and interviewing the parents regarding mental health.
According to Tonje Zahl, a Ph.D candidate at NTNU, being active, roughhousing and sweating offer more than just physical benefits. Studies reveal that increased physical activity can also protect the children against depression. The study was part of a multiyear study of childhood overall development and mental health.
Results of the study showed that 6 and 8 year olds who are active in moderate and vigorous physical activity had fewer symptoms of depression. According to Silje Steinsbekk, an associate professor at NTNU’s Department of Psychology and co-author of the study, the researchers also studied whether children who have symptoms of depression and became less active over time. But this was not so, according to Steinsbekk as reported in an article by UPI.
Some of the reasons researchers think increased physical activity protects children from depression is that by being physically active, this serves as a distraction and reduce opportunities to dwell on negative experiences. Another reason is that physical activity helps enhance self-esteem. Another reason is that physically active children may be more socially integrated with their peers.
According to researchers, nearly all children can be encouraged to increase the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Researchers note that the gains on a population level may be substantial. Researchers also think that there is a need for random studies to test the findings whether increasing physical activity actually protects the children from depression.
The said studies are more robust that mere observational studies that follow a group as the studies compare increased physical activity effect in one group against the effect of not increasing activity in another matched group. Researchers likened the study to studying a new medicine in a clinical trial as reported by Medical News Today.