Taking part in regular sport in schools can help stop teenagers feeling depressed, a new study suggests, The Times reports.
The research, which used data from 2,400 children with an average age of 14, found that physical activity was effective at reducing depressive symptoms.
The news came as The Telegraph reported that more than a million children needed treatment for serious mental health problems in the past year.
Official NHS figures show referrals for mental health treatment for under-18s increased by almost two-fifths (39 per cent) to more than a million (1,169,515) in 2021-22.
The findings also come as schools in the state and private sectors look for ways to enhance pupil wellbeing after the pandemic, but money to provide opportunities for physical activity during and after school is tighter than ever.
In the school sport study, assessments ranked children’s symptoms, such as feeling sad or struggling to sleep, before and after exercise. The exercise, over three months, involved at least three days of sport a week, with each session lasting 50 minutes on average.
The study, led by the University of Hong Kong but carried out on teenagers from several countries including Britain, found that the severity of the signs of depression reduced by about a third. The biggest benefits were recorded in those children who had been diagnosed with depression.
The authors said the report showed the importance of physical education and school sports alongside therapy or antidepressants. They said it “highlights the potential of structured physical education programmes in primary and secondary schools for improving the mental health of children and adolescents”.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, said exercise released endorphins and was thought to cause “long-term changes in brain plasticity” so children could escape negative thought patterns.