Influence of Exercise Intensity for Improving Depressed Mood in Depression: A Dose-Response Study

Behav Ther. 2016 Jul;47(4):527-37. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2016.04.003. Epub 2016 Apr 27.


Introduction: Exercise effectively improves mood in major depressive disorder (MDD), but the optimal exercise stimulus to improve depressed mood is unknown.

Purpose: To determine the dose-response relationship of acute exercise intensity with depressed mood responses to exercise in MDD. We hypothesized that the acute response to exercise would differ between light, moderate, and hard intensity exercise with higher intensities yielding more beneficial responses.

Methods: Once weekly, 24 women (age: 38.6±14.0) diagnosed with MDD underwent a 30-minute session at one of three steady-state exercise intensities (light, moderate, hard; rating of perceived exertion 11, 13 or 15) or quiet rest on a stationary bicycle. Depressed mood was evaluated with the Profile of Mood States before, 10 and 30 minutes post-exercise.

Results: Exercise reduced depressed mood 10 and 30 minutes following exercise, but this effect was not influenced by exercise intensity. Participants not currently taking antidepressants (n=10) had higher baseline depression scores, but did not demonstrate a different antidepressant response to exercise compared to those taking antidepressants.

Conclusions: To acutely improve depressed mood, exercise of any intensity significantly improved feelings of depression with no differential effect following light, moderate, or hard exercise. Pharmacological antidepressant usage did not limit the mood-enhancing effect of acute exercise. Acute exercise should be used as a symptom management tool to improve mood in depression, with even light exercise an effective recommendation. These results need to be replicated and extended to other components of exercise prescription (e.g., duration, frequency, mode) to optimize exercise guidelines for improving depression.

Keywords: antidepressant response; depression; exercise; exercise optimization; symptom management.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Treatment Outcome