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A randomized controlled trial on an aerobic exercise programme for depression outpatients

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There were limitations in the conventional treatments for depression. This study investigated if an aerobic exercise programme would be a beneficial adjunct for outpatients on treatment for depression in Hong Kong.


We performed a single blind randomized controlled trial on 34 adult patients (between 18 and 65) suffering from major depressive disorder. Their Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) scores were at least 14. They were randomly assigned to receive a 12-week aerobic exercise programme in addition to usual psychiatric care (intervention), or to continue with usual psychiatric care alone (control). The outcomes included depression severity, sleep quality, somatic symptoms distress level, and anxiety level.


Seventeen participants were randomly allocated to each group. There was statistically significant reduction in the mean HAM-D scores in both intervention (18.5–9.8) and control (19.5–14.5) groups. There were statistically significant main effects for time, for group, and for time*group interaction. On the sleep quality measures, there was statistically significant improvement in the global Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index in the intervention group only (from 12.0 to 9.0).


This study provided suggestive evidence that aerobic exercise might be a beneficial adjunct treatment for depression.

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We are grateful to Professor Linda Lam, Department of Psychiatry, the Chinese University of Hong Kong for her assistance in the planning and development of this exercise intervention research. We wish to acknowledge the help by Mr. Steve Wong in carrying out the exercise intervention, and we are thankful to other staff of the therapeutic physical mind exercise centre for their assistance.


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Correspondence to Lap Kei Cheung.

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Ethical standards

The study protocol was approved by the Joint Chinese University of Hong Kong—New Territories East Cluster Clinical Research Ethics Committee. The trial was registered in the Centre for Clinical Research and Biostatistics, Clinical Trials Registry, Chinese University of Hong Kong. The clinical trial Registration Number was CUHK_CCT00375. The study was conducted in accordance with the principles of the Helsinki Declaration of the World Medical Association.

Informed consent

All participants were required to sign informed consent prior to the study and voluntarily participated in the study.

Conflict of interest

We have read and understood Sports Sciences for Health policy on declaration of interest and declare that we have no conflicts of interest.

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Cheung, L.K., Lee, S. A randomized controlled trial on an aerobic exercise programme for depression outpatients. Sport Sci Health 14, 173–181 (2018).

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