The immediate effect of 30 minutes of exercise on depression

Just 30 minutes of exercise can help relieve depression, according to a new study – as long as the exercises are part of the therapy. Symptoms of the disease subside noticeably immediately after a workout.

Whether it’s after a stressful day at work or a general low mood, exercise is considered a reliable mood booster. But can we relieve mental illnesses such as depression with sport? Researchers at Iowa State University wanted to find out by asking 30 people concerned to follow a 30-minute exercise program several times. Particularly surprising: sport has an immediate effect on people with depression and can therefore help to effectively cushion the severity of an acute episode.

Study of 30 depressed adults

Telling someone who is depressed that they should just exercise and they will feel better is not good advice. It is in the nature of depression that it is difficult to overcome or pull yourself together. However, as part of therapy, guided workouts can do small miracles, according to new research recently published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.1 To this end, the scientists recruited 30 adults who were suffering from severe depressive episodes. “What we were particularly interested in was: how does acute training – i.e. one training session in one day – influence the main symptoms of depression?”, explains Professor Marcus Meyer, responsible for the study, in an academic statement. 2

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Questionnaires completed before and after the training

Researchers asked participants to cycle for 30 minutes or asked them to remain seated. Beforehand, they completed questionnaires to measure their symptoms of depression and also performed several cognitive tests. The procedure was repeated 25, 50 and 75 minutes after training. The researchers focused on three traits of depression: moodiness (eg, sad, discouraged, gloomy), anhedonia (eg, difficulty finding pleasure in activities), and decreased cognitive function (eg, difficulty thinking, problems). information at a time). First positive development first: those who trained on the bike during their first visit to the laboratory came back a week later on their own to repeat the experiment.

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How Exercise Relieves Depression Symptoms

During the cycling experiment, participants’ depressed mood improved during the 30 minutes of exercise and remained constant for up to 75 minutes afterwards, according to the study report. Anhedonia – that is, perceived lack of enjoyment in activities – rises slightly thereafter, but remains better than in the non-exercise group. Cognitive functions, on the other hand, performed slightly worse than in the seated group. According to study director Meyer, why this is the case needs to be investigated further.

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Sport opens up an important window of time for people with depression to face challenges

The fact that people with depression feel significantly better after exercising for more than an hour is a great opportunity for Meyer. These 75 minutes are a significant window of time that sufferers can use to do something mentally demanding. Sport can be used in a targeted way when it comes to a pending task that the person concerned previously believed he could not accomplish. “That could include a presentation, a test, or therapy,” Meyer said.

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Sport combined with therapy has the greatest effect

In a small follow-up study, Meyer and his team investigated whether exercise alone or as part of therapy provided longer-lasting relief from depression symptoms. To do this, they had five people who train without and five people with therapeutic support. After eight weeks of exercise, both groups showed improvements. But those who exercised before seeing a therapist had fewer symptoms of depression compared to the group who exercised without additional support. “With such a small group, we didn’t do any formal statistical testing, but the results are promising,” admits Meyer. For him, there are many clear indications that sport helps improve the success of therapy in adults with depression.


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