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Exercise and Clinical Depression

Craft, L. (2005). Exercise and clinical depression: examining two psychological mechanisms. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 6(2), 151-171.


Craft (2005) sought an investigation of the psychological mediators impacting exercise’s manipulation of the symptoms of depression. Although a plethora of components interact in the formulation of clinical depression and related conditions, such as physical pain (Campbell, Claw & Keefe, 2003), this investigation narrowed focus on psychological components. Specifically, authors aimed at demonstrating exercise’s potential role as a buffer in managing or reducing marked depression. Two main hypotheses respectively outlined physical activity as a behavior promoting feelings of self-control/mastery and as a distraction from dwelling on depressive symptoms. Utilizing standardized instrumentation, results supported the premise that exercise increased self-efficacy feelings and decreased depression magnitude. Physical activity, as a distraction, prevented an increase of symptoms over the brief study period.

Body-Mind Interaction

Exerting the body systems certainly produces a desired positive effect when performed in a moderate way (Pederson & Neiman, 1998). Perhaps even more significant is the promotion of directed exercise, involving the establishment of goals, planned accomplishment, and increased competencies. Craft (2005) emphasizes these aspects and postulates that structured exercise facilitates the development of goals and tasks. Examples include remaining on a treadmill for an extra minute each week or by lifting progressive poundage over the course of an established program. Meeting these goals produce positive feelings of mastery and increase control over one’s environment. This self-efficacy begins replacing the negative feelings and habits established through major depressive disorder. Exercise is also seen, in this paradigm, as a distraction from mulling over negative thoughts created and exacerbated through mood-altering illness. Exposing the body to healthy movement seems to also promote positive consequences in the mind; thoughts and cognitive processes improve in tandem with physical activity.
Mechanism of Action

Glass, Lyden, Petzke, Stein, Whalen, Ambrose, Chrousos & Clauw (2004) present that the many physical benefits of exercise impact a  variety of systems;  circulatory, respiratory, and endocrine systems, among others, reap the benefits of vigorous body movement. The authors discovered that in healthy participants deprived of regular exercise, somatic complaints increased. This suggests the activation of some bodily component in producing emotionally-linked complains such as dysphonic mood. Some of the increased focus and positive affect experienced in Craft (2005) is potentially due to those endocrine changes induced through exercise. Release of endogenous endorphins (de Bono, 2001) along with increased neuron magnitude and efficiency (Dicarlo, Zheng, Collins, Rodenbaugh & Patel, 2002) most likely provides a physical medium for psychological changes. From this increased well-being and clarity, the planning and execution of goals increases self-efficacy and diminishes the rumination over depressive thoughts. This process provides a perpetual mechanism between the exchanges of purposeful physical mobility and decreased or managed depression symptoms.


Craft (2005) advocates that exercise maintains an effective adjunct treatment for major depressive disorder. Appropriately testing for activity’s effect on this malady, one must operationally define depression. Using standardized testing instruments such as the Beck Depression Inventory II (Beck, Steer & Brown, 1996) and Depression Coping Self-Efficacy Scale (Perraud, 2000), Craft (2005) provides and example of apparatus defining the status of depression symptoms. Thus, any initiated intervention may use this information in comparing outcomes with the number and severity of symptoms as outlined in these measures. Secondly, utilizing laboratory testing for serotonin levels and other biological markers provides objective evidence of depression. Finally, a comprehensive overview of presenting symptoms, history, and physical capability for exercise is required before any treatment is performed or measured. This aids in ruling out other disorders and factors confounding diagnosis and treatment success. Many recognize the role of exercise in promoting physical health; evidence gathered through body-mind study now illuminates mental benefits as well.


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Craft, L. (2005). Exercise and clinical depression: examining two psychological mechanisms. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 6(2), 151-171.

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Glass, J., Lyden, A.,  Petzke, F., Stein, P., Whalen, G., Ambrose, K., Chrousos, G. & 
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Perraud, S., 2000. Development of the Depression Coping Self-Efficacy Scale (DCSES).  Archives of Psychiatric Nursing 14, 276–284.

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