A recent study has found an indication that keeping girls fit prevents depression in middle school girls. There is a correlation between the level of fitness and a girl’s risk of developing symptoms of depression.
The effect that fitness has on depression is small, but improvements in fitness can be part of an overall strategy to reduce the risk of depression. Such a strategy might include family or school based therapy, according to Camilo Ruggero, lead researcher and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Texas.
Ruggiero noted that depression is linked to a higher body mass index (BMI) which is used to measure if a person has a healthy weight for their height. Fitness levels tend to drop off in middle school, and weight and depression increase. “Fitness is not a cure-all, but it’s a small piece of a larger problem,” said Ruggero. “That’s why we’re so focused on that period.”
“We don’t know exactly why there is a link [between fitness levels and depression], but it is probably a number of things,” Ruggero said. “It might be better self-esteem, healthier weight or getting more positive reinforcements that go along with being active, and/or it could be more biological. We know certain proteins and hormones associated with less depression respond to increased exercise.”
He said the relationship might be reciprocal, too: the researchers also found that depression among sixth-grade boys predicted poorer fitness in seventh grade.
There was also a trend between fitness levels and depression in boys but it was not statistically significant. Less depression occurs among boys in general, so the effect may have been harder to detect, according to Ruggero. He suspects a study using a larger number of boys might show a stronger link, though it would likely still be modest.