Health: Physical activity keeps children fit and protects against depression

Physically active children are less prone to depression
Years ago, scientific studies showed that sport works in a similar way to antidepressants. Now Norwegian researchers have also been able to confirm this connection for adolescents. Accordingly, physically active children and adolescents have a lower risk of depression.

Sports against depression
According to the German Depression Aid, over five million people in Germany develop unipolar depression that requires treatment. These diseases are "among the most common and most underestimated diseases in terms of their severity", the experts write on their website. Depression is traditionally treated with medication (antidepressants) and psychotherapy. Research has shown that sport also helps against depression. Norwegian scientists have now found that this connection also applies to adolescents.

Exercise in the fresh air
As the researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) report in Pediatrics, children and teenagers who exercise a lot and exercise in the fresh air have a lower risk of depression. It is about moderate to lively activities in which the children sweat or get out of breath.

Physical activity protects against depression
In order to arrive at their results, the researchers examined almost 800 children aged six and carried out follow-up examinations with around 700 of them when they were eight and ten years old, reports the specialist magazine “EurekAlert!”.

Physical activity was measured using accelerometers, which served as a kind of pedometer. The parents were also asked about their children's mental health.

Study author Tonje Nummer is convinced by the results that physical activities are not only healthy, but also protect against depression.

The current study was part of the multi-year study “Tidlig Trygg i Trondheim”, which deals with child development and mental health.

Check new findings in further studies
According to the experts, physically active six- and eight-year-olds showed fewer symptoms of depression compared to less active peers when they were examined again two years later.

NTNU co-author Silje Steinsbekk said of the results: "It is important to know, because it can indicate that physical activity can help prevent and treat depression in childhood."

However, the researcher says the results should be checked in randomized trials.

Reducing the time on TV and smartphone is not enough
"We also examined whether children who show symptoms of depression are less physically active over time, but have found no evidence that this is the case," said Steinsbekk.

Previous studies with adolescents and adults had shown that a sedentary lifestyle - like watching TV or playing computer games - was associated with depression. However, the NTNU experts could not prove such a connection.

Depressive symptoms therefore do not lead to more inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle does not increase the risk of depression.

The message to parents and health experts is therefore: Limiting the amount of time that children are allowed to watch TV or spend on their smartphone or tablet is not sufficient. The little ones also need more physical activity. (ad)

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