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Get kids moving! Activity helps fight off depression, study says
Being active and getting sweaty offers more than just physical health benefits for young children.
A new study shows this kind of physical activity also protects against depression. We're talking about moderate to vigorous physical activity that leaves kids sweaty or out of breath.
Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and NTNU Social Research have followed hundreds of children over four years to see if they could find a correlation between physical activity and symptoms of depression.
Researchers examined nearly 800 children when they were 6-years-old, and conducted follow-up examinations with about 700 of them when they were 8- and 10-years-old. Physical activity was measured with accelerometers, which served as a kind of advanced pedometer, and parents were interviewed about their children's mental health.
"Being active, getting sweaty and roughhousing offer more than just physical health benefits. They also protect against depression," says Tonje Zahl, a PhD candidate at NTNU. She is first author of the article on the study findings, which was recently published in the February 2017 issue of Pediatrics.
Physically active 6- and 8-year-olds showed fewer symptoms of depression when they were examined 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," says Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor in NTNU's Department of Psychology.
Steinsbekk stresses that these results should now be tested in randomized studies where researchers increase children's physical activity and examine whether those who participate in these measures have fewer symptoms of depression over time than those who do not participate.
So the message to parents and health professionals is: Facilitate physical activity, which means that children get a little sweaty and breathless. Try a bike ride or outdoor play. Limiting children's TV or iPad screen time is not enough. Children need actual increased physical activity.
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