For generations, parents have told kids to go outside and play. Now, a new study suggests an added benefit to
that advice — physical activity may lower children’s risk of depression.
The researchers assessed about 700 children at ages 6, 8 and 10. Kids who got regular moderate-to-vigorous exercise were less likely to develop depression over those four years, the investigators found.
Previous studies have found that physically active teens and adults seem to have a lower risk of depression. This new study is the first time this has been suggested in children, according to researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
“Being active, getting sweaty and roughhousing offer more than just physical health benefits. They also protect against depression,” study first author Tonje Zahl, a Ph.D. candidate, said in a university news release.
The findings are important, said study co-author Silje Steinsbekk, “because it may suggest that physical activity can be used to prevent and treat depression already in childhood.” Steinsbekk is an associate professor in the department of psychology.
“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,” she added.
Further research is needed to confirm the study results, Steinsbekk said. The study didn’t prove that regular exercise caused depression risk to drop.
The study is published in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on children and physical activity.