Can exercise protect young kids from depression?

February 8, 2017 Providence Health Team

If you’re a parent, then you’ve likely seen your kids be in a better mood after getting some exercise. But, what you may not know is that exercise can actually protect kids from depression, according to a new study from Norway.

While previous studies had shown a link between exercise and a lower chance of getting depression in adolescents and adults, the Norwegian study shows a similar benefit for elementary-school aged children.

The study involved nearly 800 children in Trondheim, Norway, who were evaluated for depression and had their level of physical activity measured using waist accelerometers (devices designed to measure the intensity and frequency of their movement). The kids were tested at age 6, and then follow-up testing was conducted at ages 8 and 10.

The study showed that higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, the kind that really gets their blood pumping, at ages 6 and 8 led to fewer symptoms of major depressive disorder two years later.

How exercise can help

“I recommend exercise to almost every patient I see. And they almost always feel better from doing it,” said Ken Ensroth, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Providence Medical Group. “After exercising, they are usually less stressed and have improved moods.”

Dr. Ensroth notes that there are many positive aspects to cardiovascular exercise for children who have, or are at-risk for depression. Friendly communication is one of them,

“The structure of exercise generally helps kids feel they are having positive interaction without having to come up with a lot of words,” he says.

Non-verbal communication is important, since many kids experience some form of social anxiety and social awkwardness.

Even better, the benefits of exercise are increased when led by an adult, where, Dr. Ensroth says, “subtle things are happening such as social coaching, encouraging kids to be nice to each other, helping them follow rules and modeling how to share.”

Not to leave ego out of the mix, another boost kids gain from exercising, according to Dr. Ensroth, is self-esteem that comes from the ability to accomplish a particular exercise.

Get kids exercising more

Dr. Ensroth says that younger kids tend to already be more active than teens because of the type of play they engage in. It’s common for his adolescent patients to be less active due in part to their excessive use of TVs, computers and handheld devices. But with younger kids getting their own devices and experiencing more screen time, it can be challenging to get them involved in enough physical activity.

How can we ensure kids are getting enough activity?

One way that taps into kids’ love for games and screens is a wearable activity tracker called Sqord.

One part social community, one part fitness tracker, one part game – Sqord tracks movement in the real world and converts it into Sqord Activity Points. Kids can use the points in the Sqord app to unlock cool new features such as messaging and sending high-fives to friends, upgrading their PowerMe avatars and much more. Learn more about the activity benefits of Sqord.

Get tips on how to help kids get physically active here, and talk to your provider about how to get your child involved in physical activity.

Not sure what the signs of depression are in kids? Find out here.

To learn how to tell the difference between normal moodiness and depression click here.

Do you have a foolproof way of getting your young kids to exercise? Let us know in the comments.

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