As someone who suffers from depression, I worry about passing it on to my kids. It’s something I’ve felt fairly helpless about given that genetics play a role. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that encouraging kids to exercise could help beat back the blues.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and NTNU Social Research found that children who engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity (activity that gets kids sweaty and out of breath) are less likely to develop depression. That’s huge news because although adults have been told for a long time that exercise helps mood, this is one of the first studies showing that there might be the same effect in kids.
The study tracked the physical activity and depressive symptoms of 700 children starting at the age of 6 and then again at 8 and 10. They found that kids who were more active at 6 and 8 were less likely to have symptoms of depression two years later. Said study author Silje Steinsbekk, “This is important to know, because it may suggest that physical activity can be used to prevent and treat depression already in childhood.” Though the effect of exercise on depression is small, researchers noted that it was similar to the effect of “psychosocial intervention programs” like therapy, which is pretty amazing.
More study needs to be done before we can figure out why exercise might help prevent depression in kids — whether, as researchers theorized, it’s the distraction of physical activity or the self-esteem and social inclusion that come with participation in team sports, for example. But regardless of the why, encouraging our kids to be more physically active has very little downside that we can see. It reduces screen time, it prevents obesity, and now, it may help prevent them from developing depression. If you have a kid who already loves sports, you’re in luck. As for the rest of us, it looks like it’s time to strap on some sneakers and drag those kids outside.