Although previous studies have suggested that exercise programs can take weeks to improve depressive symptoms, a new study suggests that even a single workout can provide immediate benefits in lifting the mood of the seriously depressed.
"Many people with depression attempt to self-medicate with alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco to manage their daily routine. Low- to moderate-intensity exercise appears to be an alternate way to manage depression, one that doesn't come with such negative health consequences," researcher John Bartholomew, PhD, says in a news release. Bartholomew is an associate professor in the department of kinesiology and health education at The University of Texas at Austin.
Exercise May Help Treat Depression
Researchers say most research on depression and exercise has focused on exercise as a treatment for the underlying disorder of depression. Instead, this study looked at whether exercise might also provide more immediate, short-term benefits by lifting people's mood.
In the study, researchers compared the effects of 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill with 30 minutes of quiet rest in 40 adults recently diagnosed with depression. None of the participants was taking antidepressants or exercising regularly.
The results showed that both groups reported reductions in feelings like tension, anger, depression, and fatigue. But only the exercise group reported feeling good, as measured by improved scores on "vigor" and "well-being" indicators.
Bartholomew says the benefits found in the quiet rest group may be attributed to simply getting out of the house and interacting with people in preparation for the study, but only the exercise group experienced a greater sense of well-being and vigor.
He says the next step is to look at why exercise provides these benefits so they can structure exercise to gain even stronger effects.
Researchers caution, however, that this study shows a single session on a treadmill may only temporarily relieve the symptoms of depression rather than cure depression.