Growth hormone, prolactin and cortisol response to exercise in patients with depression

J Affect Disord. 2010 Sep;125(1-3):189-97. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2010.01.009. Epub 2010 Feb 11.


Background: A blunted growth hormone and prolactin response to pharmacological stress test have previously been found in depressed patients, as well as an increased cortisol response to psychosocial stress. This study investigated these hormones in response to acute exercise using an incremental bicycle test.

Method: A cross-sectional comparison of cortisol, growth hormone, and prolactin in depressed (n=137) and healthy (n=44) subjects during rest and in response to an incremental bicycle test. Secondly, we tested the depressed patients again after a 4-month randomized naturalistic exercise intervention.

Results: Resting plasma levels of growth hormone (GH), cortisol, or prolactin (PRL) did not differ between depressed and healthy subjects (all p-values>.12). In response to an incremental bicycle test the GH (p=.02) and cortisol (p=.05) response in depressed was different compared to healthy controls. The effect of acute exercise stress on PRL (p=.56) did not differ between depressed and healthy subjects. Apart from a decrease in GH response in the strength-training group (p=.03) the pragmatic exercise intervention did not affect resting hormonal levels, or the response to acute exercise.

Conclusions: Patients with mild to moderate depression had a different growth hormone and cortisol response to acute exercise stress compared to healthy controls. Strength training was able to reduce the growth hormone response to acute exercise stress in this patient population. Studies with more rigorous inclusion criteria and higher exercise frequencies are needed to evaluate and confirm the possible effect of exercise in depressed subjects.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Denmark
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / blood*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Human Growth Hormone / blood*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Prolactin / blood*
  • Pulse
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Resistance Training
  • Single-Blind Method


  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Prolactin
  • Oxygen
  • Hydrocortisone