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Fitness Helps Middle-School Girls Avoid Depression

Fitness Helps Middle-School Girls Avoid Depression

A new study suggests that physically fit sixth-graders — especially girls — are less likely to report feeling depressed when they reach seventh grade.

The research was presented at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention.

Investigators discovered that sixth-grade girls who performed better on a cardiorespiratory fitness test were less likely to feel depressed when they were surveyed again in seventh grade — even when symptoms of depression and weight were considered.

There was a smaller but similar effect on boys’ depression, according to the findings presented by Camilo Ruggero, Ph.D., of the University of North Texas.

For the study, researchers surveyed 437 students, 55 percent of whom were girls, at six middle schools in a metropolitan county.

In sixth and seventh grades, participants answered questions about their symptoms of depression and fitness.

They were also weighed and completed a shuttle-based run, which is a fitness testing procedure involving short bursts of speed.

The sample was 89 percent white and nine percent African-American, with 27 percent also identifying as Hispanic.

“A student’s physical activity level may change from week to week, whereas fitness is a result of more prolonged physical activity,” Ruggero said.

“Assessing the students’ body mass index, how well they performed on a shuttle-run test, and their own feelings of personal fitness helps to give us a more complete picture of each student’s fitness level.”

“Twenty-eight percent of the girls in sixth grade and 29 percent in seventh grade had elevated symptoms of depression,” said Ruggero.

Among boys, 22 percent had elevated symptoms of depression in seventh grade and 19 percent in eighth grade.

Investigators found that, not surprisingly, the most powerful predictor of depression in seventh grade was having had symptoms of depression in sixth grade. But once researchers controlled for this, fitness was an important factor in curbing students’ depression a year later.

“Depression in adolescence is associated with a range of poor school and health outcomes later on and is the main cause of disability in this age group according to the World Health Organization,” Ruggero said.

“Depression that begins at this time can lead to chronic or recurring depression in later years,” he said.

“Fitness programs are one way to help prevent depression in middle-schoolers, but schools should also use other interventions, such as one-on-one or group therapy, that more directly address symptom treatment among depressed adolescents.”

Source: American Psychological Association

Girl running on beach photo by shutterstock.

Fitness Helps Middle-School Girls Avoid Depression

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Fitness Helps Middle-School Girls Avoid Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 8 Aug 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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