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LONDON — The world has spent much of 2020 stuck indoors avoiding the coronavirus pandemic. While some children may enjoy the time off from going to school and other responsibilities, it may not be the best thing for their mental health. A study looking at the mental health of children found that even an hour of light activity each day can lower their risk for depression entering adulthood.

Researchers followed more than 4,200 adolescents starting at the age of 12 to see how daily activity affected multiple symptoms of depression.

“Our findings show that young people who are inactive for large proportions of the day throughout adolescence face a greater risk of depression by age 18,” PhD student Aaron Kandola of University College London said in a statement. “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.”


Researchers tracked the children, who wore accelerometers regularly, and recorded their movement history at ages 12, 14, and 16. The study found that every extra hour of daily activity helped to lower depressive symptoms by 7.8 to 11.1 percent, depending on the age of the child.

Depressive symptoms, described as low mood, loss of pleasurable feelings, and poor concentration skills, climbed by nearly the same amounts for every extra hour of sedentary behavior the children recorded. Adolescents with the highest amounts of inactivity during their teen years had depression scores over 28 percent higher than other children.

“Worryingly, the amount of time that young people spend inactive has been steadily rising for years,” Kandola added.

Whether it’s light activities like walking and playing an instrument or more physical tasks like running and cycling, the study’s senior author says children need to be active. Although most fitness campaigns focus on rigorous exercise, Dr. Joseph Hayes says simple changes like standing during class activities can help against depression.

“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,” Hayes explained. “Small changes to our environments could make it easier for all of us to be a little bit less sedentary.”

The study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

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About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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