Many students struggle with symptoms of depression, which include low mood, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and even suicidal ideation. However, past studies have shown that exercise can have a positive impact on mental health, and this for a number of reasons two of which seem especially relevant to children and teenagers:
In order to confirm the positive influence of sports involvement on mental health, a team of researchers recently surveyed the parents of over 4,000 children aged 9-11, asking them to complete the Child Behavior Checklist (to assess depressive symptoms) as well as a Sports and Activities questionnaire. In addition, structural MRIs were use to scan the brains of the participants, with a focus on the hippocampal region.
Their results indicate that greater participation in sports, but not in non-sports activities, is significantly associated with fewer depressive symptoms. In addition, involvement in team (but not individual) sports predicted larger hippocampal volumes.
Interestingly, these results held true even when correcting for socioeconomic status, maternal education, ethnicity and age--but only for boys.
One explanation could be that girls tend to have more opportunities to find elsewhere the kind of social support and sense of connectedness that boys experience when they engage in sports activities.
Reference: Gorham, Jernigan, Hudziak and Barch (2019), “Involvement in Sports, Hippocampal Volume, and Depressive Symptoms in Children”, Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.