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Exercise improves cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and reduces depressive symptoms in people with depression. It is unclear if changes in CRF are a predictor of the antidepressant effect of exercise in people with depression.
To investigate whether an increase in CRF is a predictor of depression severity reduction after 12 weeks of exercise (trial registration: DRKS study ID, DRKS00008745).
The present study includes participants who took part in vigorous (n = 33), moderate (n = 38) and light (n = 39) intensity exercise and had CRF information (as predicted maximal oxygen uptake, V̇O2max) collected before and after the intervention. Depression severity was measured with the Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS). V̇O2max (L/min) was assessed with the Åstrand–Rhyming submaximal cycle ergometry test. The main analysis was conducted pooling all exercise intensity groups together.
All exercise intensities improved V̇O2max in people with depression. Regardless of frequency and intensity of exercise, an increase in post-treatment V̇O2max was significantly associated with reduced depression severity at follow-up (B = −3.52, 95% CI −6.08 to −0.96); adjusting for intensity of exercise, age and body mass index made the association stronger (B = −3.89, 95% CI −6.53 to −1.26). Similarly, increased V̇O2max was associated with higher odds (odds ratio = 3.73, 95% CI 1.22–11.43) of exercise treatment response (≥50% reduction in MADRS score) at follow-up.
Our data suggest that improvements in V̇O2max predict a greater reduction in depression severity among individuals who were clinically depressed. This finding indicates that improvements in V̇O2max may be a marker for the underpinning biological pathways for the antidepressant effect of exercise.
Evidence-based treatment of depression continues to grow, but successful treatment and maintenance of treatment response remains limited.
To compare the effectiveness of exercise, internet-based cognitive–behavioural therapy (ICBT) and usual care for depression.
A multicentre, three-group parallel, randomised controlled trial was conducted with assessment at 3 months (post-treatment) and 12 months (primary end-point). Outcome assessors were masked to group allocation. Computer-generated allocation was performed externally in blocks of 36 and the ratio of participants per group was 1:1:1. In total, 945 adults with mild to moderate depression aged 18–71 years were recruited from primary healthcare centres located throughout Sweden. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three 12-week interventions: supervised group exercise, clinician-supported ICBT or usual care by a physician. The primary outcome was depression severity assessed by the Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS).
The response rate at 12-month follow-up was 84%. Depression severity reduced significantly in all three treatment groups in a quadratic trend over time. Mean differences in MADRS score at 12 months were 12.1 (ICBT), 11.4 (exercise) and 9.7 (usual care). At the primary end-point the group × time interaction was significant for both exercise and ICBT. Effect sizes for both interventions were small to moderate.
The long-term treatment effects reported here suggest that prescribed exercise and clinician-supported ICBT should be considered for the treatment of mild to moderate depression in adults.
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