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Study finds physical activity lessens depression in children

Researchers have found that moderate to vigorous physical activity can stave off depression in children.

By Amy Wallace
Study finds physical activity lessens depression in children
A new study shows that moderate to vigorous physical activity can lessen symptoms of depression in children. Photo by Diego Cervo/UPI

Jan. 31 (UPI) -- In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, or NTNU, have found that physical activity can lessen symptoms of depression in children.

Earlier studies have looked at the impact of physical activity and depression in adults and young adults but not children.

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Researchers followed roughly 800 children starting when they were 6 years old and did follow-up analysis of 700 of them when they were 8 and 10 years old, measuring physical activity levels with accelerometers and conducting parent interviews regarding mental health.

"Being active, getting sweaty and roughhousing offer more than just physical health benefits," Tonje Zahl, a Ph.D. candidate at NTNU and first author of the study, said in a press release. "They also protect against depression."

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The study was part of the Tidlig Trygg i Trondheim, a multiyear study of childhood mental health and overall development.

Results showed that 6- and 8-year-olds who participated in moderate to vigorous physical activity had fewer symptoms of depression two years later.

"This is important to know, because it may suggest that physical activity can be used to prevent and treat depression already in childhood," Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor in NTNU's Department of Psychology and co-author of the study, said in a press release. "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."

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The study found that children who had depressive symptoms were not more inactive as a result and that having a sedentary lifestyle did not increase the risk of depression.

The study was published in Pediatrics.

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