Go outside, go exercise and get off the couch. We all heard it when we were kids and we sometimes tell ourselves these things now. We're just as familiar with the excuses we make to avoid having to move an inch.
Countless studies discuss the physical benefits of exercising, but a recent study shows that being physically fit is important for more than just our abs, thighs and risk of future heart disease. The study shows that being physically fit can reduce feelings of depression, particularly in young girls.
The study looked at sixth graders and their performance on a cardiorespiratory fitness test. Those who performed well on the test showed fewer signs of depression in a survey taken when they entered the next grade. The effect was seen more in girls than boys, though the results were significant for both.
The researchers, led by Camilo Ruggero, PhD, of the University of North Texas, surveyed a total of 437 students. 55 percent of the participants were girls and six middle schools were involved in the study.
"A student's physical activity level may change from week to week, whereas fitness is a result of more prolonged physical activity," said Ruggero. "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."
Out of the girls surveyed, 28 percent in the sixth grade showed higher signs of depression, as did 29 percent in the seventh grade; 22 percent of boys showed these signs and 19 percent still showed the signs a year later.
The strongest risk factor for depression was having had the symptoms the year before. However, when the researchers controlled for this variable, they found that fitness remained the significant factor.
Ruggero says depression that occurs this early is very likely to lead to chronic depression later on, making lack of physical activity in youths' lives a reasonable cause for concern.
He recommends fitness programs as an effective way of curbing the prevalence of depression in adolescents, but says that it is also important for schools to focus on one-on-one or group therapy interventions. Directly tackling the symptoms of depression is a great way for schools to help with treatment.
The study was presented on Thursday, August 7, at the 122nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.