Dr. John F. Murray shares the latest in sports psychology research and practice and gives his expert interpretation on how this can help.
Sports Correlates with Reduced Depression in Boys as Young as 9
Adult depression has been shown to associate with reduced hippocampus size, a cortical area that is instrumental in memory functioning and stress coping. The latest research now shown from Washington University in St. Louis has linked participation in team sports to larger hippocampal volumes in children and less depression in boys ages 9 to 11.
These findings were most robust for kids engaging in athletic activities that included a lot of structure such as a school team, a non-school league or frequent lessons, as compared to more casual sports participation, according to the study, which is about to be released in the Journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.
These discoveries suggest that there is some additional gains of the team or structured part of sports, such as the social engagement or the regularity that these activities provide, said Deanna Barch, senior author on the study and chair of the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences and the Gregory B Couch Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Parents answered surveys on their child’s participation in sports and other activities and on symptoms of depression. Brain scans on the kids included data on their bilateral hippocampal volume. While much research has shown the positive impact of exercise on depression and the connection with hippocampal volume in adults, this study is among the first to demonstrate that participation in team sports may have similar anti-depressant effects in preteen children.
There were gender differences found. Findings showed an association between sports involvement and hippocampal volume in girls, but no added association with depression. This suggests that other factors contribute to depression in girls, or that a bigger association to sports involvement might emerge at a later developmental period for girls. It’s possible that participating in sports leads to increased hippocampal volume and decreased depression, or that children who are more depressed are less likely to engage in sports and also have smaller hippocampal volume. Either scenario could have important implications for understanding childhood depression.
Finding definitive links between team sports on brain development and mood would offer huge support for encouraging children to engage in structured sports that provide both exercise and social interaction.
DR. JOHN F. MURRAY’S TAKE: IN THIS BLOG, WE SEE A FASCINATING STUDY THAT SHOWS HOW IMPORTANT SPORTS PROBABLY ARE, AND ESPECIALLY TEAM SPORTS, TO CHILDREN, THEIR MOODS, AND THEIR ACTUAL BRAIN STRUCTURE. SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY IS OFTEN SEEN AS JUST HELPING ATHLETES AND EXECUTIVES WIN, BUT THIS KIND OF RESEARCH SHOWS THAT WINNING MIGHT INCLUDE MORE BASIC MENTAL WELL BEING. IF WE CAN MAKE THIS LINK MORE CERTAIN WITH FUTURE STUDIES, THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT ALL IN HEALTH FIELDS WILL BE EVEN MORE EAGER TO RECOMMEND STRUCTURED TEAM SPORTS ACTIVITIES FOR ALL CHILDREN AND THIS WILL LIKELY BE AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO PARENTS VERY SOON. SEE ALL THE EXCITING UPDATES AT MY MAIN PAGE AT JOHNFMURRAY.COM AND THE DEVELOPING NEW SITE AT SPORTSPSYCHOLOGY.COM.