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RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL

Aerobic endurance exercise improves executive functions in depressed patients

Sabine Kubesch, Volker Bretschneider, Roland Freudenmann, Niels Weidenhammer, Manfred Lehmann, Manfred Spitzer, Georg Grön
Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2003, 64 (9): 1005-12
14628975

BACKGROUND: Aerobic endurance exercise has been shown to improve higher cognitive functions such as executive control in healthy subjects. We tested the hypothesis that a 30-minute individually customized endurance exercise program has the potential to enhance executive functions in patients with major depressive disorder.

METHOD: In a randomized within-subject study design, 24 patients with DSM-IV major depressive disorder and 10 healthy control subjects performed 30 minutes of aerobic endurance exercise at 2 different workload levels of 40% and 60% of their predetermined individual 4-mmol/L lactic acid exercise capacity. They were then tested with 4 standardized computerized neuropsychological paradigms measuring executive control functions: the task switch paradigm, flanker task, Stroop task, and GoNogo task. Performance was measured by reaction time. Data were gathered between fall 2000 and spring 2002.

RESULTS: While there were no significant exercise-dependent alterations in reaction time in the control group, for depressive patients we observed a significant decrease in mean reaction time for the congruent Stroop task condition at the 60% energy level (p = .016), for the incongruent Stroop task condition at the 40% energy level (p = .02), and for the GoNogo task at both energy levels (40%, p = .025; 60%, p = .048). The exercise procedures had no significant effect on reaction time in the task switch paradigm or the flanker task.

CONCLUSION: A single 30-minute aerobic endurance exercise program performed by depressed patients has positive effects on executive control processes that appear to be specifically subserved by the anterior cingulate.

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