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Kids may battle depression better if they exercise

March 24, 2009 |  6:22 pm

Exercise seems to help some adults battle depression — that endorphin release can produce upbeat feelings and tamp down pain receptors. But does it work as well for children?

Iy1sroncIt may, according to a new study that put 207 overweight, sedentary kids ages 7 to 11 through varying bouts of play-type exercise and found that those who stayed active longest reaped the most benefits.

The children were randomly divided for 13 weeks into three groups: a low-dose exercise group that was active for 20 minutes a day, a high-dose exercise group active for 40 minutes a day, or a control group that did no exercise. Exercise was geared toward intensity and play rather than competition or skill development, and activities were designed to help kids reach a heart rate greater than 150 beats per minute. The children were also given two tests at the beginning and the end of the study — the Reynolds Child Depression scale measuring depressive symptoms, and the Self-Perception Profile for Children, which gauges kids' perception of themselves.

As exercise time rose, so did psychological benefits, as depression symptoms decreased, although the participants' weight did not change significantly. The children also said they felt better about themselves, leading researchers to speculate that that could lead to doing better in school.

"There's a message here for all of us that taking some time out of our day to do something physical helps make us better mentally," said lead author Karen Petty in a news release. Petty is a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the Medical College of Georgia's prevention institute in Augusta. The study was published online recently in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times