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Team sports help reduce depression in boys

Cover Media logo Cover Media 24/03/2019
a group of people playing football on a field © Provided by Cover Media Ltd

Participating in team sports helps reduce depression in boys, according to new research.

Scientists from Washington University studied brain imaging from more than 4,000 children aged between nine and 11 for a study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, and discovered increased activity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and responses to stress.

The results indicated an increase in hippocampal activity in both boys and girls, but that the increase only reduced depressive symptoms in boys.

"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," said Lisa Gorham, the study's lead author, who is majoring in cognitive neuroscience in Arts & Sciences.

"We also found that these relationships were particularly strong for participating in team sports or sports that involved 'structure', such as a school team, a non-school league or regular lessons, as compared to more informal engagement in sports," Gorham explained. "This raises the intriguing possibility that there is some added benefit of the team or structured component of sports, such as the social interaction or the regularity that these activities provide."

For the research, parents provided information on their child's participation in sports and other activities and on depressive symptoms. The team then cross-checked the kids' brain scans to amylase hippocampal activity.

The study raises the possibility that there is a real benefit to the structure involved in team sports as opposed to physical activity in general, which has long been known to help adults suffering from depression.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention and mental health:

Lifeline's 24-hour telephone counseling service on 0800 543 354

Need to talk? 1737 – free call or text any time to talk to a trained counselor

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