The link between symptoms of depression in children and involvement in sports

By Kavindra Sahabir ‘21

Figure 1. Young children are often encouraged to do sports for the physical benefits, however there may be mental benefits too.

Depression is an issue that is rapidly becoming more and more common in modern day society, even among preadolescents. Many studies have been conducted that show a correlation between a dip in depressive symptoms with an increase in physical activity, yet such an effect had not been measured in those below the ages of 9 to 11. In this study conducted by Lisa Gorham and her team, children who participated in sports were questioned and subjected to MRI scans in order to determine whether participation in sports and physical activities could predict depressive symptoms in children.

The study involved a sample of 4191 children between the ages of 9 to 11 from across the US who all underwent MRI scans, where the researchers analysed the hippocampus and its volume due to the link between the size of the hippocampus and depression. The children’s parents also filled out a questionnaire that provided information about the children’s’ mental health.

The study found that involvement in sports was correlated to a larger hippocampus, which is correlated with lesser depressive symptoms. More specifically, it found that boys who participated in sporting activities had lesser signs of depression, while girls had a slightly positive relationship in terms of depression and playing sports. The researchers attributed this difference to the earlier onset of puberty in girls, whose hormonal changes could be having an impact on depression, thus skewing the data. Therefore, they concluded that there was an association between playing sports and having fewer depressive symptoms. This all served to show that lack of physical activity could act as a predictor of depression, even in preadolescents.

  1. L. Gorham, et. al., Involvement in Sports, Hippocampal Volume, and Depressive Symptoms in Children. Elsevier, (2019). doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2019.01.011  
  2. Image retrieved from:

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