Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 350–359 | Cite as

Physical Exercise for Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Critical Review

  • C. M. Hearing
  • W. C. Chang
  • K. L. Szuhany
  • T. Deckersbach
  • A. A. Nierenberg
  • Louisa G. SylviaEmail author
Mood and Anxiety Disorders (D Iosifescu, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Mood and Anxiety Disorders


Purpose of the review

The purpose of this review is to critically assess the evidence for exercise as an adjunct intervention for major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, chronic conditions characterized by frequent comorbid conditions as well as interepisodic symptoms with poor quality of life and impaired functioning. Individuals with these mood disorders are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death in part because of increased rates of obesity, inactivity, and diabetes mellitus compared to the general population. Exercise may not only mitigate the increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but could also potentially improve the long term outcomes of mood disorders.

Recent findings

We conducted a literature review on the impact of exercise on mood disorders and associated comorbid conditions as well as possible biological mechanisms. We found that exercise impacts both the physical health parameters of mood disorders as well as mental health outcomes. Exercise also positively impacts conditions frequently comorbid with mood disorders (i.e. anxiety, pain, and insomnia). There are multiple candidate biomarkers for exercise, with brain-derived neurotrophic factor and oxidative stress as two main promising components of exercise’s anti-depressant effect.


Exercise appears to be a promising adjunct treatment for mood disorders. We conclude with recommendations for future research of exercise as an adjunct intervention for mood disorders.


Bipolar disorder depression mood disorders exercise cardiovascular disease adjunctive intervention 


Compliance with Ethical Standards


Ms. Hearing has no competing interests to report.

Ms. Chang has no competing interests to report.

Dr. Deckersbach’s research has been funded by NIH, NIMH, NARSAD, TSA, IOCDF, Tufts University, DBDAT and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals. He has received honoraria, consultation fees and/or royalties from the MGH Psychiatry Academy, BrainCells Inc., Clintara, LLC., Systems Research and Applications Corporation, Boston University, the Catalan Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Research, the National Association of Social Workers Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Medical Society, Tufts University, NIDA, NIMH, Oxford University Press, Guilford Press, and Rutledge. He has also participated in research funded by DARPA, NIH, NIMH, NIA, AHRQ, PCORI, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, The Forest Research Institute, Shire Development Inc., Medtronic, Cyberonics, Northstar, and Takeda.

Dr. Nierenberg serves as a consultant for Abbott Laboratories, Alkermes, American Psychiatric Association, Appliance Computing Inc. (Mindsite), Basliea, Brain Cells, Inc., Brandeis University, Bristol Myers Squibb, Clintara, Corcept, Dey Pharmaceuticals, Dainippon Sumitomo (now Sunovion), Eli Lilly and Company, EpiQ, L.P./Mylan Inc., Forest, Genaissance, Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, Healthcare Global Village, Hoffman LaRoche, Infomedic, Intra-cellular Therapies, Lundbeck, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Medavante, Merck, Methylation Sciences, NeuroRx, Naurex, Novartis, PamLabs, Parexel, Pfizer, PGx, Health, Otsuka, Ridge Diagnostics Shire, Schering-Plough, Somerset, Sunovion, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Targacept, and Teva; He has also consulted through the MGH Clinical Trials Network and Institute (CTNI) for Astra Zeneca, Brain Cells, Inc., Dianippon Sumitomo/Sepracor, Johnson and Johnson, Labopharm, Merck, Methylation Science, Novartis, PGx Health, Shire, Schering-Plough, Targacept and Takeda/Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals. He has received grants/research support from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, AHRQ, Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cederroth, Cephalon, Cyberonics, Elan, Eli Lilly, Forest, GlaxoSmithKline, Intra-Cellular Therapies, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Lichtwer Pharma, Marriott Foundation, Mylan, NIMH, PamLabs, PCORI, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Shire, Stanley Foundation, Takeda, and Wyeth-Ayerst and honoraria from Belvoir Publishing, University of Texas Southwestern Dallas, Brandeis University, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Hillside Hospital, American Drug Utilization Review, American Society for Clinical Psychopharmacology, Baystate Medical Center, Columbia University, CRICO, Dartmouth Medical School, Health New England, Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, IMEDEX, International Society for Bipolar Disorder, Israel Society for Biological Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University, MJ Consulting, New York State, Medscape, MBL Publishing, MGH Psychiatry Academy, National Association of Continuing Education, Physicians Postgraduate Press, SUNY Buffalo, University of Wisconsin, University of Pisa, University of Michigan, University of Miami, University of Wisconsin at Madison, APSARD, ISBD, SciMed, Slack Publishing and Wolters Klower Publishing, ASCP, NCDEU, Rush Medical College, Yale University School of Medicine, NNDC, Nova Southeastern University, NAMI, Institute of Medicine, CME Institute, ISCTM, World Congress on Brain Behavior and Emotion, Congress of the Hellenic Society for Basic and Clinical Pharmacology, and ADAA. Dr. Nierenberg has stock in Appliance Computing, Inc. (MindSite), Brain Cells, Inc., and Medavante. He holds copyrights for Clinical Positive Affect Scale and the MGH Structured Clinical Interview for the Montgomery Asberg Depression Scale exclusively licensed to the MGH Clinical Trials Network and Institute (CTNI).

Dr. Sylvia was a shareholder in Concordant Rater Systems and has served in the past year as a consultant for United Biosource Corporation, Clintara, Bracket, and Clinical Trials Network and Institute. Dr. Sylvia receives royalties from New Harbinger. She has received grant/research support from NIMH, PCORI, AFSP, and Takeda.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by the any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. M. Hearing
    • 1
  • W. C. Chang
    • 1
  • K. L. Szuhany
    • 2
  • T. Deckersbach
    • 1
    • 3
  • A. A. Nierenberg
    • 1
    • 3
  • Louisa G. Sylvia
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryMassachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  3. 3.Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  4. 4.Bipolar Clinic and Research ProgramBostonUSA

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