Thirty minutes of exercise might reduce symptoms of depression for up to 75 minutes after exercise, a new study suggestsadding to growing data on the relationship between physical activity and mental health.
A team led by Iowa State University recruited 30 individuals who were experiencing major depressive episodes to cycle at a moderate intensity or sit for half an hour, and they were asked to fill out electronic surveys measuring symptoms of depression before, during and after the exercise period . The participants switched tasks a week later.
“A lot of previous research on the effects of exercise on mental health, in general, have used very broad measures of wellbeing. What we were interested in, specifically, is: how does acute exercise – that is, one session of exercise in a day – influence the primary symptoms of depression,” said Jacob Meyerlead author and a professor of kinesiology at ISU.
The survey questions were designed to track participants’ changes in three major categories of depressive symptoms: depressed mood; anhedonia (difficulty experiencing pleasure from activities they previously enjoyed); and decreased cognitive function (difficulty processing multiple things at once).
Participants in the cycling experiments showed improvements in their depressed mood state throughout the period and all the way to the 75-minute post-exercise mark. Those dealing with anhedonia saw that relief began to decline after 75 minutes but it was still better than participants who were sitting during the experiment.
“The cool thing is these benefits to depressed mood state and anhedonia could last beyond 75 minutes. We would need to do a longer study to determine when they start to wane, but the results suggest a window of time post-exercise when it may be easier or more effective for someone with depression to do something psychologically or cognitively demanding,” Meyer said .
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Meyer’s team then conducted a separate pilot study to see if it was possible to combine the positive benefits of both exercise and therapy.
Five out of 10 participants in this study walked at a moderate intensity, which was verified by tracking data, for thirty minutes prior to an hour-long therapy session, while the other five continued with their regular activity over a period of eight weeks.
At the end of the short study, both groups showed improvements, although researchers found greater benefits for those who exercised prior to their therapy session. Researchers noted that those who exercised reported building a stronger rapport with their therapists.
“Overall, the pilot study showed people were interested and would stick with the combined approach, and that exercise seemed to have some effects on depression and a couple of the mechanisms of therapy,” Meyer said.
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