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How Exercise Affects Depressive Symptoms in Overweight Children

Exercise is often recommended for battling the blues, including fighting off depressive symptoms. Runners sometimes refer to a “runners’ high,” a euphoric feeling that makes them energized and enthusiastic after what would be expected to be a long, exhausting workout.

Researchers have speculated whether exercise might be a powerful component in how children view themselves and how they are impacted by depressive symptoms. Their self-worth is often wrapped up partly in how they perceive their appearance. Obesity is becoming a more prevalent problem in children, and as weight goes up, self-worth can deteriorate.

Researchers at the Georgia Prevention Institute and Department of Biostatistics at the Medical College of Georgia (Petty, Davis, Tkacz,Young-Hyman and Waller, 2007) recently looked at the associations between depressive symptoms among overweight children and exercise.

The participants in the study were 207 overweight, sedentary children. The children were between 7 and 11 years old, and were 58 percent male, and 59 percent black. The children were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group participated in a low-dose exercise program, consisting of 20 minutes per day of aerobic exercise. The other group participated in a high-dose exercise program, consisting of 40 minutes per day of aerobic exercise.

The children participating also completed the Reynolds Child Depression Scale and Self-Perception Profile for Children both at the beginning of the study and after the exercise battery was completed. The researchers evaluated whether the children’s depressive symptoms improved or deteriorated after they had participated in the exercise program.

The results of the study showed that there was a dose-response benefit of exercise for the children’s depressive symptoms. However, a comparison between the children showed that only the global self-worth (GSW) of White children improved, while Black children did not show an increased GSW in response to the exercise program.

Though the study produced mixed results, with White children experiencing different results than Black children, the information is helpful in its establishment that exercise has a beneficial effect on depressive symptoms by improving self-worth. This study provides some support for the effects of exercise on depressive symptoms by improving self-worth.

Overweight children that also show depressive symptoms may benefit from the application of a regular aerobic exercise program to improve self-worth. Further research may be necessary to determine what other factors may be influencing the discrepancy between the improvements experienced by White children versus Black children.

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