The decision to give children mood-regulating medication should not be taken lightly. These medications alter brain chemistry rather than addressing the root of depression, which may not be a chemical imbalance at all, but situational factors associated with growing up. Unless signs of major depression are present, then, children and parents would do well to take more proactive approaches to dealing with depression.
Aside from therapy and a home life that fosters healthy communication, exercise may be an important tool for combating youth depression. A recent study found that physical fitness among sixth graders was strongly correlated with a lack of depressive symptoms once they reached seventh grade.
The study found that heightened levels of depressive symptoms were fairly common among sixth graders. Of the 437 students surveyed, 28% of girls and 22% of boys in sixth grade exhibited elevated symptoms of depression. Physical fitness was measured by more than just the body mass index; researchers measured cardiorespiratory health by administering a shuttle-based run test, which involves intense bursts of speed. They also asked students for their personal feelings about their fitness levels.
The researchers found that physical fitness in sixth grade correlated significantly with a lack of depressive symptoms in seventh grade. The correlation was stronger among girls, but still significant for boys.
See more on the study at www.apa.org.
Regular exercise is well-known as an important component of physical health. Young people who are physically fit have a lower risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes in adolescence and young adulthood; if physical fitness is maintained into adulthood, the risk of heart disease and certain cancers is significantly reduced. The above study suggests that mental health is also positively impacted by fitness, making exercise crucial for both body and mind.
Parents of children with mild depressive symptoms can add exercise to their arsenal of natural, proactive depression treatment methods. While medication is the cultural knee-jerk reaction to nearly any symptom of poor health, whether physical or mental, children may be more well-adjusted and empowered if they do something besides popping a pill to deal with problems that arise.