Exercise on a regular basis is an excellent way to combat depression. According to a new study led by Iowa State University researchers, exercising for half an hour can reduce depression symptoms for at least 75 minutes afterward, thereby enhancing the therapeutic benefits. The research’s findings were published in the journal ‘Frontiers in Psychiatry.’
“Many earlier studies on the impact of exercise on mental health have relied on relatively broad measures of happiness. What we wanted to know is how acute exercise — that is, only one session of exercise per day — affects the primary symptoms of depression “Jacob Meyer, an ISU professor of kinesiology and the lead author of both papers, said.
Cycling or sitting
The researchers gathered 30 adults who were suffering from significant depressive episodes for the first investigation. Participants completed electronic surveys before, half-way through, and after a 30-minute session of moderate-intensity cycling or sitting, as well as at 25, 50, and 75 minutes following the activity. Those who cycled on their first visit to the lab returned a week later to repeat the experiment with 30-minutes of sitting, and vice versa.
The Stroop test, in which participants responded to the colour of a particular typeface rather than the word itself (e.g., indicating red when the word ‘blue’ was written in red ink), was included in each survey.
What Say Survey?
The survey data was then used to follow changes in three primary depressive disorder characteristics: depressed mood state (e.g., sad, discouraged, gloomy), anhedonia (i.e., trouble experiencing pleasure from previously loved activities), and reduced cognitive function (e.g., difficulty thinking, juggling multiple pieces of information at once). During the cycling trial, participants’ low mood improved over the course of 30 minutes of exercise and remained stable for the next 75 minutes.
The improvement in anhedonia began to fade after 75 minutes after exercise, although it was still better than the participants’ levels of anhedonia in the control group. In terms of cognitive performance, cycling cyclists were faster on the Stroop test mid-exercise but slower 25- and 50-minutes post-exercise compared to the resting group. Meyer believes that more research is needed to fully comprehend the differences.
“What’s even better is that these benefits to sad mood and anhedonia could continue longer than 75 minutes.” “We’d have to undertake a longer study to figure out when they start to diminish,” Meyer said. “However, the findings imply a window of time after exercise when it would be easier or more successful for someone with depression to do something psychologically or cognitively challenging.”
Giving a presentation, taking an exam, or going to therapy, he noted, are all possibilities. “Can we combine the known short-term benefits of exercise with the well-established long-term benefits of therapy to give the most effective overall intervention?” Meyer wondered. Meyer and his research team ran a separate pilot study as part of their efforts to answer that question.
Before entering into an hour of virtual, cognitive behaviour therapy each week, half of the ten participants exercised on their own (e.g., cycled, ran, walked) for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity pace, which the researchers confirmed with Fitbit data. Prior to their therapy sessions, the other individuals merely went about their daily routines.
Participants in both groups improved at the end of the eight-week intervention programme, but those who exercised before talking to a therapist had more pronounced reductions in depressive symptoms. The findings suggest that exercise could help adults with depression get more out of therapy, according to the researchers.
“We didn’t do formal statistical testing because we had such a small cohort,” Meyer said, “but the results are promising.” “Overall, the pilot trial revealed that people were interested in and committed to the combined strategy, and that exercise appeared to have some effects on depression and a couple of therapeutic mechanisms,” he noted.
One of these mechanisms has to do with the client-therapist connection. According to Meyer, if a person has a connection with their therapist, they are more likely to continue attending to therapy and the sessions will have a bigger impact. Participants in the pilot trial reported a faster and stronger connection with their therapists after exercising before the cognitive behaviour therapy session.
Effective treatment or intervention
The findings show that exercise may be priming or “fertilising” the brain to participate in more emotionally difficult activity that can occur during therapy, according to the researchers. The researchers intend to build on the ground-breaking research in the coming years to learn more about how exercise could be used as part of an effective treatment or intervention for those suffering from persistent depression.