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The Link between Excercise and Mood by Eve Pearce

on Tue, 01/28/2014 - 00:06

The Link between Exercise and Mood

According to the CDC, an estimated one in ten adults suffers from depression. Disorders of mood not only impact upon someone’s quality of life and their ability to complete daily activities, but also lead to poorer outcomes for a wide range of health problems. Appropriate treatment is therefore vital and while a number of psychological therapies and medications are available for the management of depressed mood, these are not the only options suitable for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. The benefits of exercise in the management of depression have been suggested for some time and a recent review by The Cochrane Library adds further evidence to back this theory.

New evidence

The review considered 39 clinical trials, which involved 2326 patients. In 35 trials the effects of exercise on mood was compared to either when no treatment was used or a when a control intervention was in place. Pooling the results for these trials found that exercise provided a moderate clinical benefit. This benefit on mood remained when only those trials that involved long-term follow-up were considered. When the 7 trials that compared the use of exercise and psychological intervention were reviewed, which admittedly only involved 189 participants in total, no significant difference between the two groups was found. This means that from this small sample while exercise was found to be no superior to psychological therapy in the management of depression it worked just as well. There were some limitations in the design of the studies used within the review, such as relying on self-reported mood scales to assess the effect of the intervention, indicating that further work is still required to validate the results. However, in the meantime, these results are still promising and can be used to support decisions to use exercise within a patient’s treatment plan for depression.

Why exercise may help

There are a variety of reasons why physical activity may be beneficial for someone suffering from a depressed mood. Firstly, the body releases endorphins during activity and when these bind to receptors within the brain they promote feelings of well-being. This is often referred to as a “runner’s high”, but it isn’t just intense exercise that offers a feel-good factor, as this is also experienced during more gentle activities such as walking. Exercise is also able to promote greater self-esteem, which is often linked to mood, so feeling better about yourself provides a mental lift. Being physically active also serves as a useful distraction, helping people to, at least temporarily, forget about their worries, acting as a useful way to manage stress, which itself can impact upon mental well-being. Finally, exercise can help towards a better night’s sleep, something that is known to boost mood. However, exercise may also help indirectly in other ways. For instance, exercise encourages social interaction and certain activities take place outdoors, both of which are known to have a positive effect on mood.

How much and which form of exercise?

The optimal amount of activity for mental well-being remains unclear. The US Department of Health currently recommends that all adults take part in at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. Split into 5 sessions of 30 minutes, this level of activity is similar to that in studies which was shown to reduce symptoms in mild to moderate depression. However, for older adults or anyone else with reduced mobility, shorter sessions of activity may still offer benefits to mood. With regards to the type of activity that best promotes mental wellness, this is likely to be personal, guided both by someone’s abilities and the exercise that they most enjoy. A common sense approach would suggest that participating in enjoyable activities will be more acceptable and likely to offer greater results, particularly as the exercise is more likely to be maintained. With increasing opportunities for participation in exercise and no shortage of advice on ways to increase activity levels, it is now easier for people to get started. However, patients from more vulnerable groups may need additional support.

Other lifestyle interventions

Exercise isn’t the only lifestyle change that may benefit people suffering from depression. A balanced diet that is rich in mood-boosting nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins, is also essential. Help to quit smoking and reduce alcohol intake are equally known to be beneficial when mood is low.


This article was created by Eve Pearce and her views/accuracy of the article is that of her own.