Physically Active Children May Experience Less Depression

Parents and kids do yoga togetherChildren who are physically active may be less likely to experience depression, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study is the first to measure the link between childhood activity levels and depression. An increasing body of research already points to the mental health benefits of physical activity in adults. A trio of studies found exercise could both treat and prevent adult depression. Another study found exercise could also be an effective tool for managing posttraumatic stress (PTSD).

Exercise to Combat Depression in Children

Researchers collected data on physical activity and depression symptoms from 795 Norwegian 6-year-olds. They followed up with 700 participants when they were 8 and 10 years old.

Children who were physically active had fewer depression symptoms at both 8 and 10 years of age. However, researchers did not find a correlation between a sedentary lifestyle and depression. This suggests exercise can reduce depression symptoms, but a sedentary lifestyle does not cause depression. The study also found children with depression were no more likely than their peers to be sedentary.

The Importance of Childhood Physical Activity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Aerobic activity such as running or walking should comprise the majority of this exercise. The CDC further recommends children do muscle-building activities such as gymnastics, as well as bone-strengthening activities such as jumping rope, at least three days per week.

In addition to combating depression, researchers have documented many ways children benefit from physical activity. A 2016 consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine states exercise supports children’s intellectual development, encourages the development of social skills and teamwork, raises self-esteem, and helps with management of stress.


  1. How much physical activity do children need? (2015, June 4). Retrieved from
  2. Zahl, T., Steinsbekk, S., & Wichstrom, L. (2017). Physical activity, sedentary behavior, and symptoms of major depression in middle childhood. Pediatrics, 139(2). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1711

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  • Holly

    February 15th, 2017 at 11:56 AM

    I am so glad that I found this because I was just wondering if exercise in kids who are experiencing depression could help and I see that the answer is yes and that makes me happy.

  • Grant

    February 17th, 2017 at 12:27 PM

    I happen to think that physical education is one of the most important and yet most overlooked aspects that a school should be promoting. However I think that more kids might buy into it if we would actually promote it as look, this isn’t just going to make you feel better from a physical point of view but this will make you mentally stronger too. There are a lot of students who are craving that kind of comfort and yet they don’t know how to get it without drinking or experimenting.
    Why not show them that this kind of happiness can be achieved in other far healthier ways?

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