Inactive childhood equals depressed adulthood

Being physically active in childhood may protect against adult depression, a recent study has shown.

The study featured in the May 2011 issue of The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (JSAMS), published by Sports Medicine Australia, investigated the association between self-reported levels of physical activity in childhood and self-reported depressive illness in a sample of adult men and women from south-eastern Australia.

Results showed that low physical activity in childhood was associated with a 35% increased risk of reporting depression in adulthood, even after taking into account current levels of physical activity.

‘Low physical activity’ as a category encompassed most activities involving sitting, standing or slow to moderate walking, with examples given including cooking, leisurely cycling, horseback riding and light housework. In contrast, ‘high physical activity’ comprised activities involving a lot of movement, such as vigorous sports, swimming laps and manual labour.

Author of the study, Dr Felice Jacka from Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, says that early life exposures to physical activity may be critical to adult health.

“There is an emerging focus on the role that early life exposures may play in influencing later health outcomes,” said Dr Jacka.

“Childhood is a period of rapid brain development and physical activity in early life may have beneficial effects on the developing brain through its impact on important brain proteins and oxidative stress.

“Involvement in active environments is also known to influence the development of important coping and stress management skills in children and adolescents and has been shown to be associated with greater emotional well-being in adolescents.

“Conversely, low levels of physical activity are associated with lower levels of social support in young adults which may influence risk factors for depression over one’s life.

“Results of this study suggest that physical activity may be a protective factor against the development of depression and supports the encouragement of regular physical activity in children,” said Dr Jacka.

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