February 20, 2004
Depression and Exercise

Talking to a friend earlier this week whose wife is a dancer. I was pointing out that I get a bit crazy if I don't exercise, and he said the same thing happens to her - that he has to make her get some exercise sometimes just so she's not unpleasant to be around.

It's common to hear that from people who exercise a lot. I know it from my own experience: if I go more than a couple of days without cranking up my heart rate, get kinda anxious and depressed, lacking mental focus, that sort of thing. I know enough about how science works not to trust anecdotes, but this is me, so I take it seriously.

Turns out, according too a piece this week in Velonews about exercise and depression, mine and my dancer friend's anecdotes are commonly reported, but apparently no one has ever studied the issue:

Many people describe feeling worse, cranky, irritable, and moody if they don't get their exercise - a phenomenon that, to the best of our knowledge, has not been formally examined.

There's good data suggesting a link between exercise and a reduction in stress, and between a reduction in stress and a reduction in depression - a place I'll gladly go. But, as scientists like to say, clearly more research is needed.

Posted by John Fleck at February 20, 2004 10:00 AM

it has been studied. exercise is effective as a part of the treatment of depression.


have pointers to relevant primary sources.

Posted by: ed__ on February 20, 2004 10:44 AM

Ed -

Thanks for the links. That's a helpful overview, but doesn't answer my question about the thing that the Velonews guys say hasn't been studied - not whether exercise is effective in reducing depression, but the related question of whether stopping exercising can trigger depression.

Posted by: John Fleck on February 20, 2004 11:12 AM

ahh, i didn't understand that that was the question (i just went back and read the linked story). not very coherent ramblings:

i'm not sure the question "does/can stopping exercise trigger depression" is well-formed. (the question in the linked story was slightly different and less general).

you could reanalyze the data of those treated for depression through exercise and look for later episodes of depression vs whether they continued exercising or not.

but this still wouldn't tell you if it triggered it, only that there was a correlation. more generally, i'm not sure if you could come to a better (stronger) answer. if you can get a hold of the data do the reanalysis and then try to control for life changing events, why they stopped, etc.

i dunno if this would tell you anything, i'm not a life scientist sort of person.

the statement 'can trigger' is also very vague.
does this have a strict meaning? (or do you have a strict meaning in mind?)

is the question you really want to ask: "in a group of people who have never exercised before compared to a group who had once exercised regularly and a group who still exercise regularly, is there an increase in the occurance of depression in the middle group after they stop? does the incidence rise to the level of the first group or higher than the first group? (controlling for stress, lifechanging events, the reason they stopped exercising, etc)"

is your hypothesis that the second group would have an incidence the same as the first group or that they would have a higher incidence? the only way i can see your question is in the latter context: a higher rate would be seen in the second group than in either of the other two groups.

am i understanding?

Posted by: ed__ on February 20, 2004 01:45 PM

I came across your question while researching for my next University assignment...I found this information a few days ago, hope it helps:

Mondin, G,. Morgan, W., Piering, P. Stegner, A, Stotesbery, C., Trine, M. Wu, M. (1996), Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Williams & Wilkins, 28, 1199-1203

The consequences of exercise deprivation for regular exercisers was studied over a 3 days, with ten volunteers. Regular was defined as at least 45 minutes 6 or 7 times a week. State and Trait Anxiety (STAI) was assessed, plus tension, depression, mood, anger, vigor, fatigue and confusion. Increases in state anxiety, mood disturbance, tension confusion and depression were reported at significant levels.

Posted by: Wendy MacLeod on April 28, 2004 05:14 PM