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Youth Sports Study Links Participation to Lower Levels of Depression in Boys

17 Apr, 2019

By: Michael Popke

If you needed one more reason to promote youth sports, here it is. New research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that participation in in team sports can result in less depression — especially in boys between the ages of 9 and 11.

“Our findings are important because they help illuminate the relationships between involvement in sports, volume of a particular brain region and depressive symptoms in kids as young as 9,” Lisa Gorham, lead author of the study and a senior majoring in cognitive neuroscience at Washington University, said in a statement. “We found that involvement in sports, but not non-sport activities such as music or art, is related to greater hippocampal volume in both boys and girls, and is related to reduced depression in boys.” 

The study will be published in a forthcoming issue of the medical journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

While other studies have shown the positive impact of exercise on depression and the link with increasing the volume of the brain’s hippocampus — a region that plays an important role in memory and response to stress — this study purportedly is among the first to indicate that participation in team sports may have similar anti-depressant effects in preteen children.

There was an association between sports involvement and hippocampal volume in girls, but unlike boys, no additional association with depression, according to the study. This might mean, researchers suggest, that different factors contribute to depression in girls, or that a stronger association to sports involvement might emerge at a later developmental period for girls.

According to a Washington University media release, thestudy is based on a nationwide sample of 4,191 children, ages 9-11, from the National Institute of Mental Health’s Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study. Parents provided information on their child’s participation in sports and other activities, as well as depressive symptoms. Brain scans of the children provided data on their bilateral hippocampal volume.

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