Research News

UW’s Meyer leads study examining influence of exercise intensity on depression

June 27, 2016

UW-Madison’s Jacob Meyer is the lead author of a new paper examining the influence of exercise on depression.

The report is titled, “Influence of Exercise Intensity for Improving Depressed Mood in Depression: A Dose-Response Study,” ​and it’s published online in the journal Behavior Therapy.

Meyer is an alumnus of the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology, where he earned a Ph.D. in 2015. He currently works as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, and as an Instructor in the Department of Kinesiology.

Jacob Meyer
“Although how hard you exercise may be important for cardiovascular and fitness improvements, the powerful result from this study is that exercise of any intensity produces acute mental health benefits in those suffering from depression –- with light intensity being as effective at improving mood as harder intensities,” says Meyer. 

The paper’s abstract notes that although exercise has been shown to improve mood in major depressive disorder (MDD), it’s not clear what the optimal exercise stimulus is to improve depressed mood. Meyer led a study that attempts to determine the most beneficial amount and intensity of exercise needed to improve mood in MDD.

To examine this topic, the researchers studied 24 women with MDD who exercise individually once per week for a 30-minute exercise session. On different sessions, each participant exercised at light, moderate and hard intensities. Participants reported their mood states before, as well as 10 and 30 minutes after, exercising.

According to the report, “exercise reduced depressed mood 10 and 30 minutes following exercise, but this effect was not influenced by exercise intensity.”

Meyer and his research team concluded that to “”acutely improve depressed mood, exercise of any intensity significantly improved feelings of depression with no differential effect following light, moderate, or hard exercise. Acute exercise should be used as a symptom management tool to improve mood in depression, with even light exercise an effective recommendation.”

Co-authors on this paper include UW-Madison Department of Kinesiology faculty members Kelli Koltyn and Dane Cook; Aaron Stegner of the Department of Kinesiology and the Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital; and Jee-Seon Kim, a faculty member with the School of Education’s No. 1-ranked Department of Educational Psychology.

These results could encourage those suffering from depression to consider light exercise as a useful symptom self-management tool. However, the researchers note in their report that in order to optimize exercise guidelines for improving depression, these results need to be replicated and extended to other components of exercise prescription.