TRONDHEIM, Norway — There’s plenty of heart-healthy reasons to get children involved in recreational sports, but now the emotional benefits may be just as important. That’s because a new study finds active children are less likely to experience depression.
That conclusion had already been reached in previous studies for adults, but researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology say they’re the first to study the effect in children. The study is published in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics.
“Being active, getting sweaty, and roughhousing offer more than just physical health benefits. They also protect against depression,” the study’s author, Dr. Tonje Zahl, said in a release.
To test this out the researchers studied 800 children between the ages of six and ten over a four-year period. To get a good take on the emotional health of the children the researchers did interviews with their parents throughout the years.
To test out their physical activity levels the researchers tracked the kids with accelerometers. During those three intervals, the kids were asked to wear the accelerometers for seven consecutive days, 24 hours a day, and only remove them to bathe. Only those participants with at least three days of recordings and 480 minutes of activity per day were included. Researchers also took into account their body mass index when they were tracking their amount of physical activity.
The researchers ultimately found that the kids who had the highest levels of physical activity had fewer signs of depression when they were reassessed after two years.
“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,” said co-author Silje Steinsbekk.
The researchers suggest that parents be mindful about encouraging their children to get plenty of physical activity, and that limiting screen time for children simply isn’t enough. Kids tend to follow by example, so introducing them to an active and healthy home can go a long way towards protecting their emotional health as well.