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For children, exercise may help stave off depression

A growing body of research indicates that staying active is crucial to sound mental health.

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One more reason to make your kids put down screens and go play outside.

Multiple studies have found a link between physical activity and lower rates of depression in adults and teens. Now, researchers have shown the same correlation exists for children as young as 6.

In a study published in this month's journal Pediatrics, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology tracked nearly 800 children for two years, beginning when they were six years old.

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The children's parents were interviewed about their children's mental health. Accelerometers were used to measure each child's physical activity.

Consistent with previous studies of adults and teenagers, the researchers found that two years later, the physically active kids had fewer symptoms of depression.

"This is important to know, because it may suggest that physical activity can be used to prevent and treat depression already in childhood," Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology department of psychology, said in a release. While physical activity that makes a kid sweaty or out of breath was linked with a decreased likelihood of showing depressive symptoms, the researchers found no evidence to suggest that having signs of depressive symptoms leads to inactivity.

The conclusion parents should draw from the study is clear, the researchers say: don't only limit a kid's screen time. They need to be getting moderate to vigorous physical activity.

In Canada, the more reasons there are to encourage kids to play, and to give caregivers an extra nudge to get them out the door, the better.

Clearly, the message isn't resonating for a majority of children across the country, despite the fact that there is already ample evidence for the many benefits of physical activity, from lowering the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes to boosting their self-esteem.

A mere 9 per cent of Canadian kids between the ages of 5 and 17 get the recommended one hour of heart-pumping physical activity each day, according to ParticipAction's latest report card on physical activity for children and youth. Although this new study from Norway was only able to prove a correlation between physical activity and depression, not causation, it is still one more reason on a long and growing list of why we should all be doing our best to make sure children spend more time playing.

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