Depression & Exercise: An Active Child May Be a Happier Child

New Research Indicates That Regular Exercise Fights Depression In Children

Several studies have found that regular exercise fights depression in adults, and now new research indicates the same may be the case for children.

In a two-year study of nearly 4,600 seventh and eighth grade boys and girls, scientists found that the more physically active the middle-schoolers were, the less likely they were to suffer symptoms of depression, such as anxiety and fatigue.*

The scientists do not really know which came first: the depressive feelings that lead to inertia, or a couch potato lifestyle that fed tendencies toward sadness and depression. But, noted contributing researcher Dr. Rod K. Dishman of the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, plenty of evidence from studies on adults have shown that exercise is effective in helping treat depression, no matter its cause.

“Our results,” concluded Dishman and his team of researchers, from Cornell University and the University of Minnesota, “encourage randomized controlled trials to experimentally determine whether an increase in physical activity reduces depression risk among adolescent boys and girls.”

In the fall of 1998, the 4,594 youngsters, all entering the 7th grade, reported their frequency of physical activity and completed the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, a standard screening test for symptoms of depression. The higher the child’s score, the more symptoms that child suffered. The kids repeated the tests at the end of their 7th grade year, and at the end of 8th grade.

Overall, the scientists found that when the exercise levels went up, depression symptoms went down, and when activity levels went down, depression scores shot up.

They noted that exercise as treatment for depressive moods is particularly important for children since many doctors are reluctant to treat kids with anti-depressant medication, and for good reason. The safety of these drugs for children and adolescents is still questionable. Regular exercise, recommended Dishman and colleagues, may well prove to be a safe, drug-free, and effective option for kids fighting feelings of depression.

Of course, in combination with a healthy diet like the Pritikin Eating Plan, regular exercise can also help overweight children slim down and, in doing so, help alleviate the emotional damage, including feelings of depression, that many overweight kids endure – the result of being teased by other kids for being fat, clumsy, or lethargic. In the Pritikin Family Program, held every summer at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Aventura, Florida, “we see kids come alive with joy and happiness,” says lead instructor Ed Pedell.

“By the end of their Pritikin Family Program, they’re astonished at what they have achieved – particularly the lean muscle mass they’ve gained and their improvements in the President’s Fitness Challenge – and how much they’ve really enjoyed themselves. They develop physicially, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s a beautiful thing to see. They leave knowing that exercise will be a part of their lives forever.”

Psychosomatic Medicine, 2004; 66: 336.

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