Study Finds Exercise Can Prevent Depression in Children


It was known that regular exercise prevents depression in adults but there was no research to prove that it does the same for children until recently.

A study conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and NTNU Social Research have found that moderate to vigorous exercise can prevent the development of depression in children. Researchers followed hundreds of young children over the course of 4 years to determine whether there was a link between exercise and depression.

Researchers examined a total of 800 children at the age of 6yrs and 700 of them were followed up at the age of 8yrs and 10yrs.

The physical activity was measured with accelerometers (pedometer type gadget) and parents were interviewed regarding the mental health of their child.

Fewer signs of depression

Children of ages 6yrs and 8yrs old who regularly engaged in vigorous physical activities showed fewer symptoms of depression than those who did not exercise.

“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 suggests that other researchers follow this study and investigate whether the intensity of exercise leads to further decline in signs of depression.

Importance of exercising for children

Numerous studies have revealed that teens and adults who lead sedentary lifestyles are most susceptible to becoming depressed. This study, however, did not find any correlation between children who lead sedentary lifestyles and depression.

That being said, children who do not exercise are more likely to become adults who do not exercise. It is easier to engage in physical activity as an adult if you had been an active child.

A study carried out by Y-USA in 2011 revealed shocking statistics, claiming that three out of four children of ages 5-10 get less than an hour of physical activity daily. Furthermore, only 15% of parents showed any concern at all for the lack of physical activity in their child’s life, despite the growing rates of childhood obesity that plagues the country.

It’s no surprise that children are spending such less time being physically active. The same survey found that 74% of the parents spend family time with their children in front of the television set.

It also revealed that 53% of children spend their leisure time by playing video games or sitting in front of the computer.

Technology has proven to be the biggest culprit in reducing physical activity for children. Being aware of all the health risks of leading an unhealthy lifestyle, parents should encourage their children to partake in extra-curricular activities and play games that will make them exercise.


Tonje Zahl, Silje Steinsbekk, Lars Wichstrøm. Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Symptoms of Major Depression in Middle ChildhoodPediatrics, 2017; e20161711 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-1711