Physical Fitness Helps Young Adolescents Avert Depression

Physical Fitness Helps Young Adolescents Prevent Depression

Young adolescents can ward off depression by staying physically fit, especially the middle-school girls, a new study reveals.

The researchers at the University of North Texas conducted a survey on 437 students from six middle schools in a metropolitan county in North Texas.  Out of the total, 55 percent were girls. Based on the survey, they found that physically-fit sixth-graders were less likely to report feeling depressed on being promoted to the seventh grade.

As part of the study, the participants were made to answer questions pertaining to symptoms of depression and fitness. Each of them was weighed and completed a shuttle-based run. This is a fitness testing procedure that involves short bursts of speed. The participants included 89 percent whites, 9 percent African-Americans and 27 percent Hisapnics.

“A student’s physical activity level may change from week to week, whereas fitness is a result of more prolonged physical activity,” said Camilo Ruggero, PhD, of the University of North Texas. “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 noticed that 28 percent of the girls in sixth grade and 29 percent in seventh grade exhibited elevated symptoms of depression. Among boys, 22 percent faced high symptoms of depression in the seventh grade and 19 percent in the eighth grade. Among both girls and boys, the powerful predictor of depression in the seventh grade was having had symptoms of depression in the sixth grade. They found that fitness was a key factor in controlling depression a year later.

After considering existing symptoms of depression and weight, sixth graders who did well on cardio-respiratory fitness tests were less likely to feel depressed when they surveyed the seventh grade.

“Depression that begins at this time can lead to chronic or recurring depression in later years,” he 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 was presented at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention.

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