Physical exercise is often touted as an effective treatment for depression but, as with other therapies for depression, rates of recovery are incomplete and it is not known who benefits most from this treatment approach. In a recently published paper, a team of researchers, led by Federal University of Porto Alegre’s Felipe B. Schuch, scoured around 2,000 studies that explored the effects of exercise treatments for depression. After excluding articles that did not specifically explore who benefits most from exercise treatment for depression, the researchers were left with 11 articles. Several variables were reported to predict benefit from treatment including global functioning and social support. Few variables were explored in multiple or methodologically rigorous studies but levels of inflammation and bran-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF) were reported to predict treatment response.
Depression has been associated with inflammation, along with a host of other diseases. Physical exercise has been reported to reduce inflammation suggesting that this may be one of the mechanisms by which exercise alleviates depression. BDNF is related to cognitive functioning and nerve growth. The gene that encodes for it has associated to risk for depression and other disorders and BDNF levels appear to be reduced in individuals who are depressed. Increases in BDNF have been reported to account for the efficacy of antidepressants so the current findings further highlight the importance of BDNF in depression. The review by Schuch and colleagues suggest promising hypotheses about personalizing exercise treatment for depression but more research is clearly needed.
Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR)
Marna S. Barrett, Ph.D.
Mood & Anxiety Disorders Treatment Research Unit
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
3535 Market St., Suite 670
Philadelphia, PA 19104