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J Affect Disord. 2016 Aug;200:218-21. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.04.030. Epub 2016 Apr 20.

Sweating away depression? The impact of intensive exercise on depression.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town, South Africa.
2
Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa.
3
Division of Chemical Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa.
4
Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa.
5
Neuropsychology Unit, Department of Neurology, University Hospital Zurich, Frauenklinikstrasse 26, CH-8091 Zurich, Switzerland. Electronic address: georg.schoenbaechler@access.uzh.ch.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

In periods of prolonged stress and pain the body produces endorphins to help endure pain. The PANIC system is built on the same pathways as the pain system and is characterized by behaviour that looks like depression. The term 'mental pain' in the context of feelings of loss is arguably justified in light of this relationship between the physical pain and social loss systems. It is reasonable to expect that endorphin release ameliorates depression.

METHODS:

Moderately depressed males (n=30) were randomly assigned to one of three groups of varying exercise intensity. Each underwent a six-week exercise programme for three days per week, one hour per day. The HAM-D, MADRS, and ANPS were administered weekly and β-endorphin levels measured.

RESULTS:

Moderate- and high-intensity exercise improved depression levels, while very-low intensity exercise did not have as beneficial an effect. β-endorphin results were inconclusive. Participants showed a slight decrease in PANIC and FEAR, and increased SEEKING.

LIMITATIONS:

The potential insensitivity of the assays that were utilized, and the known problems with measuring β-endorphins, may have contributed to the findings. The lack of a state measure of the basic emotion systems is problematic, as a trait measure has to be relied upon, and this likely affected the ability to accurately detect changes over time.

CONCLUSIONS:

The demonstrated improvements in depressive symptoms have important implications for the clinical treatment of patients despite the hypothesis that the PANIC system is involved in the genesis and maintenance of depression not having been conclusively confirmed.

KEYWORDS:

Depression; Exercise; PANIC/Separation-distress system; β‐Endorphin

PMID:
27137088
DOI:
10.1016/j.jad.2016.04.030
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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