The link between exercise and mental health, has frequently been cited in scientific literature. Those who exercise regularly not only manage to stay fit and lean, it seems, but are also more able to battle stress, anxiety and depression. A new study, however, carried out by scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), has found that physical activity is not only good for adults, but also for children, when it comes to keeping depression at bay.
The study involved around 600 children, aged six, most of whom were examined then followed up at the ages of eight and ten. The researchers used accelerometres to determine children’s activity to levels, and spoke with parents regarding their children’s mental health.
Tone Zahl, currently completing her doctorate at NTNU, found that active exercise (aerobic exercise, or the type that actually makes kids sweaty) bestows more than physical benefits. It also helps protect them against depression.
The researchers noted that the fact that the more active kids had lesser symptoms of depression when examined two years after they were initially observed, showed that exercise can be an important preventive measure for child depression. The study also showed that there was no correlation between leading a sedentary lifestyle and depression. That is, having depression did not lead to a child being more sedentary. They concluded that parents and schools should facilitate exercise for children. It should be noted that depression can last a lifetime and can seriously interfere with one’s quality of life and career prospects. It can also be costly, affecting everything from life insurance to costs for counselling and medication. Recurrent depression is thought to reduce one’s lifespan by between seven and 11 years. Some ideas to get kids more energetic include:
• Heading for the great outdoors: Many children in the UK spend less than half an hour outdoors a week and that means that parents are also falling behind on healthy time under the sun. Entire families can benefit greatly from bringing outdoors, taking part in sports and activities within a natural setting. Studies have shown that most people find exercising outdoors more entertaining than in a gym setting, and outdoor exercise also burns more calories – largely because of the varied, sometimes rough terrain. Children can benefit from being in nature in many more ways – by building a strong bond with nature, ideals such as fighting for environmental sustainability become more than a matter of theory.
• Playing sport alongside them: If you are a parent, one of the most powerful ways to get children interested in sport, is by being serious about it yourself. Find a sport you like – whether this be tennis, swimming, football or yoga – the sky’s the limit – chances are, your children will be much more interested in trying it out if they see mum or dad are into it.
• Personalising your child’s exercise regime: It is important to help children find their passion when it comes to sport. Some children work best within a team setting, while others prefer individual sports where they mainly compete against themselves (including swimming). Rather than force kids to take part in sports that everyone else is playing, they should be encouraged to try out various activities and stick with the ones they truly enjoy. Otherwise, exercise can become a chore and children are more likely to lose interest quickly.
• Teaching them about health: When children are old enough to understand the importance of sound nutrition and exercise, parents can begin to get them interested in the physiological and mental effects of exercise. The Internet is filled with short videos and materials which encourage children to understand the value of making healthy choices in life.
• Bear in mind that sport is a lifelong pursuit: With obesity on the rise in developed countries, the importance of sport has never been greater. We should aim to instil a love of sport in our children by any means possible, considering that an early love of sport is likely to continue into their adulthood. With research showing that the sedentary lifestyle can be as dangerous as smoking when it comes to obesity and heart disease, the sooner we can foster a love for sport in our kids, the better.
Written By Gemma Hardcastle