July 1, 2004 -- Playing sports or just being active may help adolescents reduce their risk of depression, according to a new study.
The study shows that 7th graders who were physically active were less likely to suffer from depression, and students who increased their level of physical activity during the next two years had a lower risk of becoming depressed.
An estimated 8%-9% of early adolescents in the U.S. suffer from depression. Girls are twice as likely as boys to develop depression during adolescence than boys.
Physical Activity May Fight Teen Depression
The study, which appears in the May-June issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, followed more than 4,500 Minnesota students for two years. At the start of the study in the fall of 1998, when the students were starting 7th grade, they were asked if they got 20 minutes of exercise at least three times a week and screened for depression.
Researchers found that depression was less common among adolescents who reported higher levels of physical activity.
Two years later, the study showed that an increase in physical activity was associated with a decrease in symptoms of depression.
Although the magnitude of the change was small (amounting to only about a 3% change in symptoms of depression) researchers say it's significant.
"It is important to investigate the efficacy of low-risk interventions for reducing depression symptoms, such as physical activity, that may be more acceptable to youth and their families," writes researcher Robert Motl, of the University of Georgia and colleagues.