On the heels of the CDC survey showing the incredible rise in teen depression and anxiety, we have a new comprehensive study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showing that the best treatment, at least for adults, is exercise. The researchers analyzed 97 systematic reviews of more than a thousand studies with a total of more than 128,000 participants. They found that exercise is 1.5 times more effective than medication or even therapy.
The analysis did not review studies of anyone under age 18, but its results are in line with previous studies of children and teens struggling with depression. A Lancet longitudinal study followed almost 5000 children from age 12 to 18, and found that moderate-to-vigorous activity had the most benefits. Even light physical activity in the early teen years, however, was associated with less depression when the children were 18. “Depression scores at 18 years were lower for every additional 60 min/day of light activity at 12 years, 14 years, and 16 years of age.“ Conversely, ”[h]igher depression scores at 18 years were associated with a 60 min/day increase in sedentary behaviour” at the same ages.
One of the best things, then, we can do to help our kids who are struggling with depression is to encourage them to play. Certainly, there is little downside, and it’s something we can do without a medical or counseling degree. It also has the benefit of pulling kids away from their social media, given that they can’t play sports with phones in their hands.
Of course, we’ll have to either make it a family activity or get over our irrational fears of letting children play unsupervised (or both). The evidence is piling up, though, that we should encourage exercise either as a first-line technique or along with therapy and medication for any of our kids who are struggling with depression.