Physical activity may limit depressive symptoms in children

1. In a study of Norwegian children, those who engaged in more moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) at ages 6 and 8 had fewer symptoms of major depressive disorder 2 years later.

2. There was no association between sedentary behavior and depression among these children, nor did depressive symptoms predict MVPA.

Evidence Rating Level: 1 (Excellent)

Study Rundown: The benefits of physical activity in limiting or preventing symptoms of depression in adolescents and adults is well established. However, major depressive disorder also affects younger children, and treatment and prevention efforts in this population are less robust and less effective. This study explores the connection between MVPA and depressive symptoms in children ages 6 through 10 years. Children were asked to wear accelerometers, and they and their parents were interviewed for depressive symptoms. Overall, higher levels of physical activity at ages 6 and 8 predicted fewer symptoms of MDD 2 years later. Sedentary activity and MDD did not share a relationship. This study supports the recommendation that younger children engage in physical activity for improved physical and mental health. While this study further supports the many benefits of physical activity, the results may be confounded by other variables, such as increased social interactions and enhanced self image.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

Relevant Reading: The clinical picture of depression in preschool children

Study Author, Ms. Tonje Zahl, MSC, talks to 2 Minute Medicine: NTNU Social Research, and Department of Psychology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

“Physical activity have a range of health benefits, and this study indicates that increasing children’s moderate and vigorous physical activity may prevent later depressive symptoms. Thus, physicians may involve parents and others to facilitate physical activity among children at risk for depression.”

In-Depth [prospective cohort]: This study included 6-year old children originally recruited in the Trondheim Early Secure Study (N=795). Children were asked to wear accelerometers for 7 consecutive days. Parents and children were interviewed according to previously validated psychiatric interview methods to assess for depression and other psychiatric symptoms. Children were interviewed at ages 6, 8, and 10 years. Weight and BMI data were also collected and controlled for. Overall, higher levels of MVPA at ages 6 and 8 were associated with fewer depressive symptoms 2 years later (from 6 to 8, B= -0.58, 95% CI -0.95- -0.21, from 8 to 10, B= -0.58, 95% CI -1.03- -0.13, P = .002). The reduction was approximately 0.20 depressive symptoms for every hour of MVPA a day. Presence of depression did not predict later MVPA, and there was no correlation between depression and sedentary activity in either direction.

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