Zahl T, et al. Pediatrics. 2016;doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1711.

January 09, 2017
1 min read

Exercise may prevent depression in middle childhood


Zahl T, et al. Pediatrics. 2016;doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1711.

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Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity predicted fewer depressive symptoms in middle childhood, suggesting increased physical activity may be useful to prevent and treat childhood depression.

“[Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] might possibly serve as a strategy for preventing or reducing childhood depression. Indeed, a meta-analysis of randomized and quasi-experimental studies among children in late childhood and early adolescence suggested a small short-term effect of [physical activity] interventions. Given the waxing and waning of depression, it is important also to discern whether long-term effects are present,” Tonje Zahl, MSC, of NTNU Social Research, Trondheim, Norway, and colleagues wrote.

To assess associations between moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, sedentary behavior and major depressive disorder, and the stability of depressive symptoms from age 6 to 10 years, researchers evaluated a community sample of 795 children living in Norway. Study participants were aged 6 years at study enrollment and were followed up at age 8 years (n = 699) and 10 years (n = 702). Physical activity was determined by accelerometry and depressive symptoms were assessed via semi-structured clinical interviews of parents and children.

DSM-IV MDD was diagnosed in 0.3% of children at age 6 years and 0.4% of children at age 8 years.

MDD decreased from age 6 years to 8 years but increased from age 8 years to 10 years.

Minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day did not change from age 6 years to 8 years but decreased from age 8 years to 10 years.

Sedentary activity increased from age 6 years to 8 years and further increased from age 8 years to 10 years.

In cross-sectional analysis, MDD symptoms were negatively associated with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at age 8 years and 10 years but were unrelated to sedentary behavior.

“[Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] predicts fewer future MDD symptoms in middle childhood, and such symptoms are moderately stable from the ages of 6 to 10 years. Sedentary activity in children does not alter the risk of future symptoms of depression, and depression does not influence the likelihood of [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] or inactivity,” the researchers wrote. “Although the effect was small, our results indicate that increasing [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity] in children at the population level may prevent depression, at least at subclinical levels.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.