Depression will affect 1 in 4 children and teenagers. As social media continues to ramp up body image pressure, it’s likely those figures will rise. Yet, in a whole range of ways, exercise can help.
Medication, dedicated treatment programmes and psychotherapy can all play their part in helping a child through the black cloud of depression, but there’s one treatment that, studies suggest, could outstrip them all in terms of long lasting benefits: exercise.
The idea of using exercise as a way to address wellbeing and mental health is hardly new – scientists have been investigating the positive effects of exercise on depression since the early 1900s. But as lives become more sedentary, more pressurised and more solitary, the effects of exercise are becoming even more pronounced.
The effects of exercise on depression
It’s not for nothing the Canadian YMCA has launched a programme aimed specifically at mental health in the young. As the Canadian Psychological Association notes, the benefits of exercise include “lower levels of stress, sadness, and loneliness; improved sleep quality and self-esteem; and boosted academic performance in youths.”
The Mayo Clinic notes a key non-medical strategy for addressing childhood depression is to stay healthy, advising parents to: “Do your part to make sure your teen eats regular, healthy meals, gets regular exercise and gets enough sleep.”
Mentalhealth.org.uk notes that “people with high levels of regular physical activity have been shown to have higher levels of positive emotions such as interest, excitement, enthusiasm and alertness compared to people with moderate and low levels of physical activity.”
And this study (into depression in the general population) revealed a clear and “statistically significant” link between physical activity and mental wellbeing, with symptoms of depression reducing in each study group that used exercise to combat the condition.
Results that last
What’s more, the improvements exercise can convey appear to be long lasting. The depressed subjects of the above study “displayed significantly greater improvements in depression, anxiety, and self-concept than those in a control group after 12 weeks of training” and “maintained many of these gains through the 12-month follow-up period.”
It isn’t only the physical activity that benefits mental wellbeing either. Find the right exercise group, and the social element can be just as beneficial to overcoming depression. As mentalhealth.org.uk says, “there is extensive research that shows that good social relationships and networks promote and are a protective factor for wellbeing and mental health.”
How do you get a depressed child to exercise?
‘That’s all very well’, you might say, ‘but have you tried getting my son or daughter anywhere near a gym?’
There’s a specific cocktail of issues that surround youth depression that makes it even less likely a tween will commit to exercise: low self-esteem; other, more sedentary distractions; the feeling that ‘everyone else will be better/look better than me’.
Here are some simple tips for overcoming such issues and encouraging your child to give exercise a try:
- Remove the competition: There’s a huge role for competitive sports, but when a child is struggling with anxiety or low self-esteem, the prospect of ‘letting the side’ down can be too much to overcome. The Little Gym removes competition and pressure, making it easier to feel ok about stepping through the door.
- Invite a friend: Every activity is better with someone to share it with. Invite a friend and share the experience, so your child feels less exposed.
- Make it part of the routine: Regular attendance boost fitness levels and ensures your child sees and feels the positive effects of their attendance quicker. At The Little Gym, we schedule regular sessions that are easy to factor into a busy week.
- Make it fun: It’s absolutely vital to find a form of exercise your child enjoys. This shouldn’t be forced exercise or feel like a school PE lesson. It should be exercise that puts a smile on the face. And that’s precisely the sort of exercise we promote.
- Make it age appropriate: No child wants to take part in something that’s pitched too young, or which smacks of being ‘uncool’. The Little Gym has been running programmes for children up to the age of 12 for years, and we know exactly what it takes to make children not only enjoy the experience, but want to return and again and again. The Little Gym programmes focus on helping children develop a great sense of self-worth progressing them at their own pace, as well as healthy habits that last a lifetime.
Exercise has a unique power to help reduce the symptoms of depression and instil a love of physical activity that can benefit your child physically and emotionally as they grow towards adulthood. To find out more about how we could help your child find, call 01483 343 000.