Depression is quite prevalent among younger people. Physical activity programs may help relieve symptoms of depression in them, a new study has found.

For a study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data from 21 previous studies that involved a total of 2,442 young participants. The idea was to find out whether physical activity interventions can actually “alleviate depressive symptoms in children and adolescents.”

“Depression is the second most prevalent mental disorder among children and adolescents, yet only a small proportion seek or receive disorder-specific treatment,” they wrote. “Physical activity interventions hold promise as an alternative or adjunctive approach to clinical treatment for depression.”

The team found that physical activity interventions were actually associated with reductions in depressive symptoms. An hour of physical activity three times a week produced the “biggest benefit” in kids, according to HealthDay.

“(Y)ou know, that’s pretty close to what the federal government has recommended as regular exercise for both children and adults, somewhere between 75 and 150 minutes a week,” said Walter Thompson, one of the study authors.

The reductions in symptoms were greater in participants above 13 years old “with a mental illness and/or depression diagnosis,” the researchers found. According to Thompson, this actually makes sense, given that physical education requirements often get phased out by the time the kids are 12 years old.

“What that means is they’re not getting the structured physical activity that the younger kids are getting,” Thompson explained. “So what we’re seeing is an increase in depressive symptoms, which translates to a clinical diagnosis of depression, which then follows them into high school and into adulthood.”

Furthermore, the team also found greater benefits with programs that were shorter than 12 weeks. It could be because such programs may be giving the kids a sense of accomplishment and achievement.

With the benefits mostly observed with supervised and organized programs, Thompson urged parents to enroll their kids in extracurricular activities or sports. They could also set a good example for their kids by adding regular physical activities to their own lifestyles.

This is not the first time experts have found a link between physical activity and mental health. In 2020, for instance, a study tied sedentary behavior to depressive symptoms among adolescents. And just like with the current study, the research team found that some level of physical activity could help reduce depression symptoms.

Although starting to incorporate physical activity into one’s life may not be as easy for some, people can start small with some simple workouts. For instance, they can begin with a five-minute walk and its duration can be increased gradually. It’s better to choose an activity that one enjoys so that it would be easier to sustain.