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OPINION AND EVIDENCE: Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression?

Blumenthal, James A. Ph.D.; Smith, Patrick J. Ph.D.; Hoffman, Benson M. Ph.D.

doi: 10.1249/01.FIT.0000416000.09526.eb
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LEARNING OBJECTIVES: • To be able to define depression, list common assessment instruments, describe traditional treatment approaches, and understand the effects of aerobic exercise on depression.

Depression is a common disorder that is associated with compromised quality of life, increased health care costs, and greater risk for a variety of medical conditions, particularly coronary heart disease. This review examines methods for assessing depression and discusses current treatment approaches. Traditional treatments include psychotherapy and antidepressant medications; however, such treatments are not effective for all patients, and alternative approaches recently have received increased attention, especially the use of aerobic exercise. This review examines evidence that exercise is effective in improving depressive symptoms among patients with major depression and offers practical suggestions for helping patients initiate and maintain exercise in their daily lives.

Depression is a common disorder that is associated with a compromised quality of life, increased health care costs, and a greater risk for a variety of medical conditions, particularly coronary heart disease. This review examines methods for assessing depression, discusses current treatment approaches, evaluates evidence that aerobic exercise is an effective treatment option for patients with major depression, and offers practical suggestions for helping patients initiate and maintain exercise in their daily lives.

James A. Blumenthal, Ph.D., received his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of Washington and is board certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology in Clinical Psychology. He is currently professor of Medical Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Blumenthal is the recipient of several awards including an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University, the Michael L. Pollock Established Investigator Award, and Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology from the American Psychological Association (Division 38). He is former president of the American Psychosomatic Society and Division 38-Health Psychology of the American Psychological Association.

Patrick J. Smith, Ph.D., obtained a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Duke University. He completed his clinical internship in neuropsychology at Duke University Medical Center in 2009. Currently, Dr. Smith is a clinical associate in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center in the Division of Behavioral Medicine. His research has focused on the effects of behavioral interventions, such as diet and exercise, on psychological and neurobehavioral function, as well as on the relationship between vascular health, depression, and neurocognitive function.

Benson M. Hoffman, Ph.D., obtained his doctoral degree in Counseling Psychology at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York and a postdoctoral fellowship in Health Psychology at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Haven, CT. Dr. Hoffman is now an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center, where he specializes in the assessment and treatment of organ transplant patients, and contributes to research on the effects of behavioral interventions on depression, cognition, and health.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest and do not have any financial disclosures.

© 2012 American College of Sports Medicine