Sport? It is better to be on a team, especially for pre-adolescents. This is revealed by a research conducted by Washington University in Saint Louis: the physical activity is not only a panacea for the body, but also has benefits for the mind and the mood of the very young, especially if practiced as a team. We talked about it with Professor Daniela Lucini, Head of Exercise Medicine at Humanitas.
First study on pre-adolescents
It doesn’t matter whether it’s football, rugby or basketball; team sports participation is linked to a lower probability of depression among teenagers and to modifications in the structure of their brains. The study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging has opened up new scenarios to counteract mood problems in teenagers. The researchers examined a sample of over 4,000 children aged between 9 and 11 years, of which parents provided information on their children’s participation in sports or other activities and any depressive symptoms. The children’s brain scans provided data on the volume of their hippocampus, an area of the brain that is important for their memory and mood. While other studies have shown the positive impact of exercise on depression and the link with the volume of the hippocampus in adults, this study is among the first to show that participation in team sports can have similar antidepressant effects in preadolescent children.
A powerful antidepressant
“We found that involvement in sport is related to increasing the volume of the hippocampus and reducing depression in the very young,” said Lisa Gorham, lead author of the study. These relationships were particularly strong among those who were part of the school teams and sports clubs compared to those who were more informally involved in physical activities, probably because of the greater social interaction or regularity involved in teamwork. While no specific causal relationship could be demonstrated – in other words whether it is participation in team sport that represents an antidepressant or whether it is children at greater risk of depression who tend to engage in this type of sport – the researchers stress the importance of exploring the issue with other studies on the prevention and treatment of this condition in young people because “if the impact of sports on mood and brain development is confirmed, new approaches can be established to prevent depression”.
The opinion of Humanitas
“Certainly sport can have many benefits – added the specialist -, in addition to those related to the physical health. There is a lot of evidence to show that sport can be an important tool for the management of problems related to stress, and depression. Team sports, especially in the young, and also those to be played alone. There are many explanations: in fact, regular physical activity can modify some of the mechanisms involved in mood regulation. We must not forget the role of socialization, nor the educational role of sport”.