Teenagers who spend too much time inactive at higher risk of depression
Light activity such as walking associated with significant reduction in depression
Adolescents who spend too much time sitting still are at a higher risk of depression, according to a new study. Photograph: iStock
Adolescents who spend too much time sitting still are at a higher risk of depression, according to a new study.
The research, published in the Lancet Psychiatry, indicates that an additional hour of light activity – such as walking or doing chores – is associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.
The findings are based on longitudinal data collected by a research team led by UCL (University College London) from more than 4,000 young people who wore accelerometers to track their movement.
It comes at a time when studies indicate that physical activity is declining among adolescents, which some say is linked to increased use of digital devices.
The study’s authors say that while many initiatives promote exercise in young people, these latest findings suggest that light activity should be given more attention as well.
The study’s lead author, PhD student Aaron Kandola, said: “We found that it’s not just more intense forms of activity that are good for our mental health, but any degree of physical activity that can reduce the time we spend sitting down is likely to be beneficial.”
Dr Brendan Kelly, professor of psychiatry Trinity College Dublin, said some children and adolescents find that very competitive or energetic sports are off-putting, and they tend not to participate as a result.
“This research says that light and moderate activity also has demonstrable benefits for mental health.
“In other words, adolescents don’t necessarily need to win medals at school sports days or be on the school’s number one rugby team. They just need to sit down less.”
He said something as simple as walking to school or playing a musical instrument has measurable, lasting benefits for mental health – as well as benefits for physical wellbeing and personal accomplishment,.
“The best advice for parents is to lead by example. We are all creatures of habit, so we should integrate more light physical activity into everyday routines, for us and for our children.” The study team found that an additional 60 minutes of light activity daily at age 12 was associated with a 10 per cent reduction in depressive symptoms at age 18.
Depressive symptoms – such as low mood, loss of pleasure and poor concentration – were measured with a clinical questionnaire.
The study’s senior author, Dr Joseph Hayes said light activity should be given more attention.
“Light activity could be particularly useful because it doesn’t require much effort and it’s easy to fit into the daily routines of most young people,” he said.
“Schools could integrate light activity into their pupils’ days, such as with standing or active lessons. Small changes to our environments could make it easier for all of us to be a little bit less sedentary.”