National Exercise with Your Child Week: Role of physical activity in managing depression

Depression in teens is fairly common in the United States. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2015, about three million American adolescents aged 12 to 17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Depression affects teens badly as it may contribute to poor interpersonal relationships and impaired physical health.

Depressive episodes in adolescents can also increase the risk of experiencing some serious mental health problems in adulthood. Therefore, it is important to seek timely interventions to help teens recover from depression. While timely treatment may be required in moderate to severe cases, regular exercise and physical activity can be effective in not just managing mild depression but also improving the outcome of the treatment.

What do studies say?

Many studies have discussed the association between depression and exercise in adolescents. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (JSAMS), young adolescents with higher levels of physical activity and lower levels of leisure-time are less likely to experience depressive symptoms. The research found that the risk of experiencing depressive symptoms was lower in the teens who were involved in a sport or other outdoor activities at school and were very active during physical education classes. Moreover, adolescents who were involved in physical activity for at least 60 minutes per day had a low risk of developing depressive symptoms.

Another 2014 study investigated the effect of physical activity in preventing depressive symptoms among adolescents aged between 14 and 17 years. The findings failed to report any association between physical activity and development of depressive symptoms during the 3-year follow-up. The research found that the physically active adolescents did not have higher or lower depressive symptoms than their lazy counterparts. Therefore, researchers denied any protective effects of physical activity on depression.

However, an October 2016 study showed contrasting results. According to the study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (JAH), exercise might be an effective intervention in improving self-esteem and decreasing depression levels. Though more research is needed before exercise can be suggested as a preventive measure for depression among adolescents, studies do show benefits of physical activity in improving brain functions and depressive symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommends 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity for children and adolescents. As the National Exercise with Your Child Week is about to kick off from August 04-10, 2017, here are three types of physical activities that can help a child enjoy great physical and mental health:

Aerobic activity: Aerobic activity should comprise a major part of child’s daily dose of a 60 minute regimen of physical activity. This can include either vigorous-intensity activities, such as running or moderate-intensity aerobic activity, including brisk walking. It is imperative to include vigorous-intensity aerobic activity at least thrice a week.

Muscle strengthening: Muscle strengthening activities, including push-ups or gymnastics, should be performed at least three days in a week as part of a child or teen’s daily dose of 60 or more minutes of physical activity.

Bone strengthening: Bone strengthening activities, including jumping rope or running, should be added to a teen or child’s daily physical activity at least thrice a week.

Dealing with depression in adolescents

It is common for teenagers to feel sad, down or distressed at times. However, if these feelings persist and get stronger with time, the situation calls for immediate treatment. Common signs of teen depression include poor performance in school, withdrawal from activities, hopelessness, sudden changes in eating or sleeping habits and suicidal thoughts, among others. If you observe any of these signs in your teen, seek immediate mental treatment. The 24/7 Mental Health Helpline offers valuable information on 247 mental health treatment. Chat online or call our 24/7 helpline 855-653-8178 for information about outpatient mental health helpline.