Research has found that playing team sports changes children’s brains and reduces their chances of developing depression

In adults, depression has long been associated with shrinkage of the hippocampus, a brain region that plays an important role in memory and response to stress.

Interestingly, new research from Washington University in St. Louis has linked participation in team sports to larger hippocampal volumes in children and less depression in boys ages nine to 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 nine,” says Lisa Gorham, lead author of the study and a senior majoring in cognitive neuroscience in Arts & Sciences.

“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,” says Gorham.

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Team sports are the best

These relationships were particularly strong for children participating in sports that involved structure, such as a school team, a non-school league or regular lessons, as compared to more informal engagement in sports, according to the study.

Study based on over 4 000 children

The study is based on a nationwide sample of 4 191 children ages nine-11 years from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study.

Parents provided information on their child’s participation in sports and other activities and on depressive symptoms. Brain scans of the children provided data on their bilateral hippocampal volume.

While other studies have shown the positive impact of exercise on depression and the link with hippocampal volume in adults, this study is among the first to show that participation in team sports may have similar anti-depressant effects in preteen children.

What about girls?

The study indicated an association between sports involvement and hippocampal volume in girls, but unlike boys, no additional association with depression.

This might mean 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.

Could this be a natural alternative to antidepressants?

Source: Washington University in St. Louis via www.sciencedaily.com

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