Exercising for half an hour may reduce symptoms of depression for at least 75 minutes post-workout and amplify the benefits of therapy, according to two new studies led by researchers at Iowa State University.
For the first study, the researchers recruited 30 adults who were experiencing major depressive episodes. The participants filled out electronic surveys immediately before, half-way-through and after a 30-minute session of either moderate-intensity cycling or sitting, and then 25-, 50- and 75-minutes post-workout. Those who cycled during the first lab visit came back a week later to run through the experiment again with 30-minutes of sitting, and vice versa.
Each survey included standard questions and scales used to measure symptoms of depression and several cognitive tasks, including the Stroop test; participants responded to the color of a particular font rather than the word itself (e.g., indicating red when they saw the word ‘blue’ in red ink).
During the cycling experiment, participants’ depressed mood state improved over the 30 minutes of exercise and consistently up to 75 minutes afterward. The improvement to anhedonia started to drop off at 75 minutes post-exercise, but still was better than the participants’ levels of anhedonia in the group that did not exercise.
As for cognitive function, participants who cycled were faster on the Stroop test mid-exercise but relatively slower 25- and 50-minutes post-exercise compared to participants in the resting group. Meyer said more research is needed to understand the variation.
Half of the ten participants exercised on their own (e.g., cycled, jogged, walked) for 30 minutes at a pace they considered moderate intensity, which the researchers also verified with Fitbit data, before signing into an hour of virtual, cognitive behavior therapy each week. The other participants simply continued in their day-to-day activities prior to their therapy sessions.
At the end of the eight-week intervention program, participants in both groups showed improvements, but those who exercised before talking with a therapist had more pronounced reductions in symptoms of depression.
The researchers said the results indicate exercise could help amplify the benefits of therapy for adults with depression. Psychology of Sport and Exercise
Release date: 30 March 2022
Source: Iowa State University