Magnitude, timing and duration of mood state and cognitive effects of acute moderate exercise in major depressive disorder

Jacob D. Meyer, Thomas A. Murray, Cassandra S. Brower, Gabriel A. Cruz-Maldonado, Maria L. Perez, Laura D. Ellingson, Nathaniel G. Wade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Acute exercise generally improves mood state and cognitive functioning in healthy adults. However, the impact of acute exercise on primary symptoms in adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) is poorly understood. The present randomized cross-over study evaluated the magnitude, timing, and duration of the psychological effects of 30 min of moderate-intensity cycling exercise compared to quiet rest in 30 adults (21 female) with MDD. Methods: Depressed mood state (Profile of Mood States Short Form-Depression; POMS-D), state anhedonia (anhedonia Visual Analog Scale [VAS], and Dimensional Anhedonia Rating Scale [DARS]), and cognition (inhibition via Stroop and working memory via the 2-back task) were assessed pre, mid, post, 25-, 50- and 75-min after each session. Results: Generalized estimating equations demonstrated significant session by time interactions for POMS-D and VAS indicating small-to-large improvements in mood state and anhedonia up to 75 min post-exercise (p < 0.05; Cohen's d ranges: POMS [-0.69, -0.95]; DARS, [-0.02, 0.16]; VAS [0.33, 0.83]) with greater immediate effects that lessened somewhat across time. For cognition, Stroop reaction time improved during exercise, but was worse at 25- and 50-min post-exercise compared to quiet rest (p < 0.05); no differences were found for 2-back reaction time. Limitations: The small sample and continued psychological effects at 75 min indicate a potentially longer-lasting response than was measured herein. Conclusion: Performing short bouts of moderate intensity exercise appears to be effective for management of key symptoms (anhedonia, depressed mood state) in adults with MDD. The time immediately post-exercise may be ideal for performing emotionally challenging tasks and/or tasks where a low symptom severity would be helpful (e.g., psychotherapy).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102172
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by an internal grant from the College of Human Sciences at Iowa State University to Dr. Meyer and Dr. Meyer's startup funds.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd


  • Anhedonia
  • Cognition
  • Depression
  • Exercise
  • Symptom management
  • Working memory


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