teen exercise

How Exercise Can Help Teen Depression

July 6, 2017

Although more than 15 million adults struggle with depression, our youth are also vulnerable to this mental health disorder. In fact, approximately 20% of teens experience depression before they reach adulthood.

Teens who have depression are more likely to experience the disorder once they become adults and the risk of suicide associated with teen depression is a major concern. Unfortunately, many teens (and adults) are reluctant to admit that they are struggling with a mental illness.

The symptoms of depression in teens are similar to what you find in adults and include:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Hopelessness
  • Sadness
  • Irritability and anger
  • Unusual eating and sleeping patterns

Add to that issues that can be associated with adolescence, such as declining academic performance in school and trouble dealing with personal and social relationships and you can see how depression can significantly affect a teenager.

Many factors can influence teen depression such as:

  • Underlying issues with bipolar and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • An experience involving physical and/or mental abuse
  • Feelings of low self esteem related to obesity and a poor body image
  • Physical illness and abnormal body chemistry

How Physical Activity Can Help Teen Depression

teen exerciseCertainly, a teen who struggles with depression should be evaluated and treated by a professional.  However, it seems that physical exercise can also play a critical role in minimizing the symptoms of depression.

A study conducted in England at the University of Newcastle involved teens who participated in supervised exercise three times a week over a twelve week period. The levels of depression were reduced by over 60 percent, with the majority of the participants having fewer symptoms of depression when the program was over.

Just as standard medication that alters brain chemicals can help teen depression, the increased endorphin levels that result from increased physical activity suggest that exercise can help teen depression. When endorphin levels are increased, positive feelings result which can help a teen both mentally and physically. Similar studies have been conducted in Canada at the University of Toronto, with comparable results.

Researchers are also looking at ways to determine how exercise can ward off episodes of depression.  Are there specific exercises that are more beneficial for depression?  How often should one exercise to prevent depression?  These are some of the many questions that need to be answered.

Implementing Exercise to Help With Depression

Like everything is life, moderation is key.  The same is true for exercise.  A stable and consistent exercise routine should be implemented to give the best chance for the reduction of depressive symptoms.

It is best to incorporate a program of exercise that combines strength, flexibility and aerobic activities.  This can be done in a gym or at home, but the program should provide you with exercise at least 3 times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes.

The type of exercise that you perform can be a mixture of activities, such as weight lifting, walking, running, swimming, stretching or other activities that you enjoy.  If you have trouble finding the right exercise program for you, simply seek the help of a fitness professional.

Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center encourages physical activity as part of its inpatient therapy programs. These programs help to:

  • Lower stress
  • Elevated mood
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Improve self-image

It is important to understand that teenage depression can be treated with the right professional help.  This may require mental health therapy, medications or other mental health treatment. 

In addition, exercise has been shown to assist and improve the symptoms of depression.  Whether a teen has been diagnosed with clinical depression, or not, exercise should be encouraged for all as it has so many valuable benefits.  Starting a teen on an exercise plan can make impressive improvements in their physical and mental health and well-being.