Exercise Fights Depression in Children

By: Jim Evans

With physical education on the decline in our schools and childhood obesity on the rise, it should be no surprise that children are experiencing a greater incidence of depression and low self-esteem.  This can lead to a myriad of problems for parents and teachers to cope with and can sometimes lead – tragically – to suicide.

Regular exercise has long been shown to be effective in fighting depression in adults, but an increasing number of studies indicate that it is equally effective fighting depression in children.  Why? Because, whether you are an adult or a child, exercise boosts so-called “feel-good” endorphins that reduce fatigue, anxiety, stress, and sadness and other symptoms of depression.  In other words, the level of depression is typically proportional to the level of physical activity.

According to Jerry Wilde, PhD, an associate professor of educational psychology for Indiana University East and author of “Hot Stuff to Help Kids Cheer Up,” some of the most common symptoms of major depression among children include:

  • feeling worthless, anxious, empty, irritated, and/or hopeless
  • loss of interest in activities, hobbies, or relationships
  • reduced pleasure in daily activities
  • inability to enjoy activities which used to be sources of pleasure
  • change in appetite, usually a loss of appetite but sometimes an increase
  • change in weight (unintentional weight loss or gain)
  • persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (insomnia)
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • acting-out behavior (missing curfews, unusual defiance)

(Source:  “Depression in Children and Adolescents,” About.com: School-Age Children)

Says Wilde, “Increasing evidence suggests that exercise is an effective part of the treatment for depression. The key to exercise as a depression reliever is in a brain chemical called phenylethylamine, or PEA which is a natural stimulant produced by the body. People who are depressed are low in PEA and exercise raises these levels. Develop a family plan to ensure you’re getting enough exercise to stay healthy.”

“Make an effort to keep your son or daughter busy and engaged in life. The natural response to depression is to withdraw from life, which is the worst thing to do. Parents need to help keep kids actively engaged in life but that’s often easier said than done.”

“Last, but not least…act. If your child was badly hurt and bleeding, you’d take him or her to a doctor. Well, a child might be hurting on the inside where you can’t see it. Seek information and get help for your child because all too often, depression in children and adolescents is a silent killer.”

Jim Evans is a 49-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and General Manager of Verdure.  Readers can send their questions about health and fitness to jim@verdurefitness.com.

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