Depression is a common mental condition that many feel at some point throughout life. While antidepressants work for some, for others, therapy is the best option. Now, in a new study, scientists show that people with specific brain signals are likely to benefit from exercise.
For the study, researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersy recruited 66 young adults at an average age of 20 years old. All had been diagnosed with major depression.
Prior to the experiment, the researchers measured each participant's reward-processing centers. To do so, they instructed each to play a guessing game where they won or lost money by selecting doors at random. Their brain activity was then recorded using EEG.
After their reward signaling patterns were registered, the participants were then split into two groups. Over a period of eight weeks, they were instructed to either perform moderate-intensity aerobic exercise- such as running or cycling for 45 minutes- or light stretching three times per week.
In the end, the researchers found that exercise had no effect on how people processed rewards. They did find, though, that those with high reward processing were 45% more likely to respond positively to exercise. In particular, exercise seemed to help those with worse symptoms of depression at baseline.
Although promising, the researchers warn that the results are preliminary and thus can't be taken conclusively. Nevertheless, the process of assessing the brain's reward system prior to treatment may one day become an important factor in selecting treatment and predicting outcomes.
"Even light walking is beneficial for depression," says Brandon Alderman, lead author of the study. "Our findings of a greater antidepressant effect following moderate-intensity aerobic exercise relative to light stretching suggests that even greater benefits can be derived from more vigorous exercise."