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Exercise, Adolescents and Depression

Which exercise helps teens most?

Running for adolescents and depression

The pandemic was particularly challenging for adolescents with depression, with girls at greater risk for both depression and anxiety than boys. Offering cardio programs for adolescents may be an effective and powerful way to help ease depressive symptoms.

Approximately 14% of youth in the United States are coping with depression, up from around 13% one year earlier, according to the State of Mental Health in America 2021 study. And, only 27% of youth with depression report that they receive consistent care. Exercise is a particularly beneficial activity for easing depressive symptoms.

According to a review study published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2022; 16 [16]), for adolescents with depression, 30-minute, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise programs, four times a week, are the most effective in improving depression. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for 75–120 minutes at a time, three times per week over an 8-week period, was found to be the best type of exercise to improve depressive symptoms.

The review includes 15 studies with a total of 1,331 subjects between the ages of 12 to 18. Combined aerobic and strength training programs also significantly reduce depressive symptoms, but not as effectively as cardio training programs. Overall, physical activity positively effects depression in teens and can make a significant impact on those who need help.

See also: Resistance Training for Adolescents and Preadolescents



Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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