Reaching Depressed Teens and Young Adults With Exercise

by Shirley Archer, JD, MA on Feb 12, 2014

Mind-Body-Spirit News

Significant research [that has been reported in this column] supports the role of moderate exercise as an adjunctive therapy for adults with depression. New research shows that these same benefits may be available for teens who suffer from this condition.

“Exercise has so many advantages as a therapy: it is non-drug, has few side effects, and has countless other health benefits. But it has never been tested in youth as treatment for depression,” said study author Robin Callister, PhD, of the University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia, in a press release from the Society for Neuroscience. “Evidence that exercise can lift mood in young people is a huge step forward in treatment of this delicate population.”

The World Health Organization reports that major depressive disorder (MDD) begins early in life and peaks between the ages of 15 and 29. Current treatments can be expensive, time-consuming and not always effective.

The pilot study included 13 young men and women aged 18–22 with MDD. Participants received a motivational interview and were assigned to exercise for 12 weeks: three times per week with a trainer, with a recommendation to complete 30 minutes of exercise individually on other days. Investigators conducted assessments of physical and mental health at baseline and after 12 weeks.

Data analysis showed that by the end of 12 weeks, in spite of only 66% attendance, mood improved significantly among subjects, with depression severity cut by 63%. Only two participants still met all the criteria for major depressive disorder. In other words, the condition improved so much in the other 10 subjects by the end of 12 weeks that they no longer experienced MDD. One participant dropped out of the study.

Researchers are optimistic about the potential of exercise to help young people with depression. Callister said, “We are now conducting a larger trial to further evaluate the effects of exercise in depression and are hopeful that it could be used as a treatment in addition to other treatments for depression without potential problems.”

The study was presented at Neuroscience 2013. To learn more, go to

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About the Author

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, was the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at