Can exercise help battle depression in children?

Battling depression in children

Photo: Collected

Childhood has forever been synonymous with positive attributes like innocence, fun, and vigour. In recent times, however, the scenario seems to have taken something of a darker turn. Children are being associated more and more with issues such as depression and other mental health problems. Emerging as an unsung hero in battling these issues, exercise has been known to work wonders in preventing mental health troubles in young people, becoming an invaluable supplement to any depression treatment plan.

To determine just how much of an impact physical activity can have on mental health, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) took a sample size of 800 6-year-old children and put an activity tracker around their waist for seven days. At each stage of the study, parents and children had to complete a psychiatric report to assess their well-being and likelihood of depression. The study went on to show that children who had moderate-to-high levels of physical exercise between the ages of 6 to 8 years were less likely to have symptoms of depression a couple of years later.

In a separate study conducted with behaviourally challenged children from kindergarten through grade 10, it was seen that disorders such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression could also be helped through exercise. Children who cycled 30-40 minutes twice a week reported improved levels of self-regulation and fewer disciplinary time-outs.

Endorphins, or “feel good” hormones released during exercise have been found to uplift children’s moods, elevate energy levels, and improve sleep patterns. The hormone also encourages desirable cognitive qualities such as better thinking and learning, problem-solving, and a stronger attention span. Children experiencing anxiety are usually unable to break the cycle of their negative thoughts; physical exercise gives them something else to focus on, making it easy for them to take their minds off troubling thoughts and learn new skills.

Sports involving high levels of physical activity are great for children’ self-esteem. Children who have a choice of different activities they can do at, or, after school have a good chance of appreciating their bodies for what they can do, rather than for what they look like. This also helps make them more confident and competitive and helps them build stronger bonds.

A sedentary lifestyle in children, due to long hours at school, more work on computer screens, or longer rest periods spent in front of the television screen has given rise to a higher number of child and adolescent depression instances. Parents must instead focus on quality active time spent running and playing.

Often, during periods of sadness, the last thing a child wishes to do is go outside and play. Growing temptations of screen time also do their bit to keep children indoors. Finding a fun activity involving physical exercise will ensure that children come back to it again and again, willingly. Bouncy balls, trampolines, bicycles, and jump ropes are all great instruments that can lure children to sweat it out, outside. Parents of young children can help their children develop a habit of physical exercise by modelling it themselves. They can also do their bit by limiting screen times and chalking time out of their schedules to ensure crucial outdoor time for their children.

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