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Exercise, stretching reduce depression in young adults, study finds

Exercise, stretching reduce depression in young adults, study finds
Exercise might help some young adults with depression, a new study has found. Photo by Jesús Rodríguez/Unsplash

Aug. 24 (UPI) -- Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can be an effective treatment for some young adults with depression, a study published Monday in the journal Psychological Medicine found.

Study participants who completed three 45-minute workouts per week for eight weeks using a treadmill and stationary bike saw, on average, a 55% reduction in their depression symptoms, the data showed.

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Those who did light-intensity stretching routines three times per week for eight weeks saw a 31% reduction in their symptoms, researchers said.

"Our findings add to the existing and growing body of evidence supporting aerobic exercise as an effective antidepressant treatment," researcher Brandon L. Alderman told UPI.

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"However, although exercise is important for everyone, it is not a panacea for symptom reduction for all patients with depression," said Alderman, an associate professor of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University.

Up to 8% of Americans 12 years old and older experience symptoms of depression, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although dozens of prescription medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating depression, not everyone responds well to drug therapy, Alderman said. Several studies have indicated that exercise therapy, combined with cognitive behavioral therapy, can be effective.

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For the research, the Rutgers-led team studied 66 young adults with major depression, focusing on aerobic exercise and its impact on depressive symptoms.

Study participants were evaluated using the Beck Depression Inventory II, which has a maximum score of 63, a commonly diagnositic tool for depression.

Three times a week for eight weeks, some participants performed moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and others performed light-intensity stretching, the researchers said.

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The test, which has a maximum score of 63, revealed that the exercise group saw a roughly three-point reduction in their scores, while those in the stretching group had a 1.7-point drop.

The researchers also assessed cognitive control and reward-related brain activity, two aspects of brain function that are impaired in people with depression. They hoped to learn if it's possible to identify patients who would benefit from behavioral therapy with exercise.

While aerobic exercise did not influence reward processing or cognitive control, people with better reward processing when the study began were more likely to successfully respond to exercise treatment, according to the researchers.

This, they said, means that assessing people with depression for reward processing could help identify those who would respond to exercise therapy.

"The findings from our study suggest that it may be possible to identify individuals who would benefit most from exercise in terms of depression reduction," Alderman said.

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