For the new study presented at the 122nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Ruggero and his colleagues followed more than 400 sixth grade students, 55 percent of whom were girls, who attended six middle schools in North Texas at the beginning of the study.
The researchers evaluated the symptoms of depression of the participants as well as assessed their fitness levels using shuttle based runs and by measuring their weight, which the researchers did at the start of the study when the children were in their sixth grade and when they reached seventh and eighth grade.
"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," Ruggero said.
The researchers found that approximately 28 percent of the girls in the sixth grade and 29 percent of the girls in the seventh grade had symptoms of depression. Of the boys, 22 percent showed symptoms of depression when they were in seventh grade and 19 percent had depression in their eighth grade. Ruggero and colleagues also found that fitness played a significant role in reducing the students' tendencies to suffer from depression a year later.
Ruggero said they cannot exactly pinpoint why there is an association between the children's fitness levels and depression but he has several theories.
"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," Ruggero said. "We know certain proteins and hormones associated with less depression respond to increased exercise."
Ruggero said that depression that begins early in life can persist and may even become worse as a person gets older which is why aside from fitness programs, schools should adopt other forms of interventions that can help depressed adolescents.
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