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Physical Fitness can Reduce Children’s Depression Risk

Update Date: Aug 07, 2014 11:05 AM EDT
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Physical fitness is not only good for the body, it can also be good for the mind. According to a new study that examined middle school students, being physically fit was linked to a reduced risk of depression by the time the students reached seventh grade.

In this study headed by Camilo Ruggero, PhD, of the University of North Texas, the researchers interviewed 437 students, with 55 percent of them being girls. They were all attending sixth-grade from six middle schools located in North Texas at the start of the study. The surveys, which were also conducted when the children entered seventh and eighth grade, assessed fitness and symptoms of depression. The team collected information on the children's weight and measured fitness levels using a shuttle-based run.

"A student's physical activity level may change from week to week, whereas fitness is a result of more prolonged physical activity," Ruggero said according to the press release. "Assessing the students' body mass index, how well they performed on a shuttle-run test and their own feelings of personal fitness helps to give us a more complete picture of each student's fitness level."

The researchers found that 28 percent of female sixth-graders and 29 percent of female seventh-graders had depression symptoms. For males, 22 percent of seventh-graders and 19 percent of eighth-graders had symptoms of the mental illness. The team reported that the biggest predictor of depression in seventh grade students was the presence of depression symptoms in sixth grade. The researchers added that when they controlled for depression symptoms in sixth grade, they found that fitness had a great effect in curbing depression.

"Depression that begins at this time can lead to chronic or recurring depression in later years," Ruggero said. "Fitness programs are one way to help prevent depression in middle-schoolers, but schools should also use other interventions, such as one-on-one or group therapy, that more directly address symptom treatment among depressed adolescents."

The study's findings were presented at the American Psychological Association's 122nd Annual Convention.

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