The Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Psychological Functioning in Family Caregivers: Secondary Analyses of a Randomized Controlled Trial

Ann Behav Med. 2021 Feb 12;55(1):65-76. doi: 10.1093/abm/kaaa031.


Background: The responsibility and stress of being a family caregiver are associated with reduced physical and mental health.

Purpose: To examine whether a 24-week aerobic exercise program improves multiple aspects of psychological functioning in family caregivers.

Methods: Family caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias (n = 68) were recruited and randomized into either an aerobic exercise group (n = 34) or a waitlist control group (n = 34). The exercise group was assigned a 24-week aerobic training program that incrementally increased the intensity, duration, and frequency of the exercise program until 150 min of moderate to vigorous activity were completed per week by the ninth week. Twelve measures of psychological functioning were administered at baseline and compared with responses completed following the intervention.

Results: Multilevel modeling revealed significant decreases in caregiver burden (β = -4.60, 95% confidence interval [CI] = [-8.82, -0.38], RLMM2 = 0.11) and depression (β = -2.59, 95% CI = [-4.79, -0.38], RLMM2 = 0.13), as well as increases in mastery (β = 1.78, 95% CI = [0.09, 3.46], RLMM2 = .04) in the exercise intervention group compared to the control group.

Conclusion: Family caregivers report high levels of depression and caregiver burden. Engagement in a 24-week exercise intervention can ameliorate the perceived burden of caregiving, symptoms of depression, and their sense of mastery.

Keywords: Burden; Caregivers; Depression; Intervention; Mastery; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural