The purpose of this study was to assess the status of 156 adult volunteers with major depressive disorder (MDD) 6 months after completion of a study in which they were randomly assigned to a 4-month course of aerobic exercise, sertraline therapy, or a combination of exercise and sertraline.
The presence and severity of depression were assessed by clinical interview using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule and the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD) and by self-report using the Beck Depression Inventory. Assessments were performed at baseline, after 4 months of treatment, and 6 months after treatment was concluded (ie, after 10 months).
After 4 months patients in all three groups exhibited significant improvement; the proportion of remitted participants (ie, those who no longer met diagnostic criteria for MDD and had an HRSD score <8) was comparable across the three treatment conditions. After 10 months, however, remitted subjects in the exercise group had significantly lower relapse rates (p = .01) than subjects in the medication group. Exercising on one's own during the follow-up period was associated with a reduced probability of depression diagnosis at the end of that period (odds ratio = 0.49, p = .0009).
Among individuals with MDD, exercise therapy is feasible and is associated with significant therapeutic benefit, especially if exercise is continued over time.