Physical Exercise for Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Critical Review

Curr Behav Neurosci Rep. 2016 Dec;3(4):350-359. doi: 10.1007/s40473-016-0089-y. Epub 2016 Oct 14.


Purpose of the review: The purpose of this review is to critically assess the evidence for exercise as an adjunct intervention for major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, chronic conditions characterized by frequent comorbid conditions as well as interepisodic symptoms with poor quality of life and impaired functioning. Individuals with these mood disorders are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death in part because of increased rates of obesity, inactivity, and diabetes mellitus compared to the general population. Exercise may not only mitigate the increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but could also potentially improve the long term outcomes of mood disorders.

Recent findings: We conducted a literature review on the impact of exercise on mood disorders and associated comorbid conditions as well as possible biological mechanisms. We found that exercise impacts both the physical health parameters of mood disorders as well as mental health outcomes. Exercise also positively impacts conditions frequently comorbid with mood disorders (i.e. anxiety, pain, and insomnia). There are multiple candidate biomarkers for exercise, with brain-derived neurotrophic factor and oxidative stress as two main promising components of exercise's anti-depressant effect.

Summary: Exercise appears to be a promising adjunct treatment for mood disorders. We conclude with recommendations for future research of exercise as an adjunct intervention for mood disorders.

Keywords: Bipolar disorder; adjunctive intervention; cardiovascular disease; depression; exercise; mood disorders.