A study by Rutgers University has suggested that it could be possible to predict which young adults with major depression would benefit most from exercise.
The Rutgers-led team studied two groups of young adults with major depression, focusing on aerobic exercise and its impact on depressive symptoms.
For a period of eight weeks, one group undertook moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week, while the other did light-intensity stretching.
Symptoms of depression were reduced by 55 percent in the aerobic exercise group – compared to 31 percent in the light-intensity stretching group.
Crucially, while aerobic exercise did not influence reward processing or cognitive control, people with better reward processing when the study began were more likely to successfully respond to exercise treatment.
Cognitive control means processes that allow adjustments in behavior to help achieve goals and resist distractions.
Reward processing (or reward-related brain activity) reflects the response to rewarding stimuli or outcomes and the ability to process and then modulate your response to positive and negative outcomes, such as achievement or loss.
Deficits in reward processing have been linked to multiple psychiatric conditions, including major depression, and may reflect anhedonia – the loss of interest in or inability to experience pleasure in cases of depression.
“Our study needs to be replicated, but the precision medicine approach of predicting who may or may not benefit from exercise as an antidepressant is provocative,” said senior author Brandon L. Alderman, an associate professor at Rutgers University.
“We also need to know whether exercise has a similar antidepressant effect in younger adolescents and in adults with more treatment-resistant forms of depression who have not responded well to traditional treatments, including antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy.”
The study was published in the journal Psychological Medicine
, to read the full study, click here.