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«Exercise and its Effects on Depression in Young Adults by Christopher P. Emerson A Research Paper Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the ...»

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Exercise and its Effects on Depression in Young Adults


Christopher P. Emerson

A Research Paper

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the

Masters of Science Degree


Guidance and Counseling

Approved: 2 Semester Credits

The Graduate School

University of Wisconsin-Stout

May, 2009

The Graduate School

University of Wisconsin-Stout

Menomonie, WI

Author: Emerson, Christopher P.

Title: Depression and its Effects 011 Depression in Young Adults Graduate Degree/Major: MS Guidance and Counseling Research Advisor: Johnson, Carol, Ph.D.

MonthNear: May, 2009 Number of Pages: 29 American Psychological Association, 5th edition

Style Manual Used:

ABSTRACT Depression is a common issue for young adults. Fast-paced lifestyle, demands of work and school, traumatic events, loss, and loneliness are just some factors that may contribute the increase in number of diagnosed depression symptoms in teens. ill addition to medical assessment and diagnosis by professionals, some doctors are including physical activity as part ofthe treatment plan to help with improving mood.

Exercise such as yoga, bowling, walking, gardening, swimming and tai chi may be helpful for those battling mild depression. Identifying the effects that exercise may have on young people with depression learning the various types of exercise that may aid in the reduction of depressive symptoms is the purpose of the literature review.

For many years depression has been the number-one diagnosed disorder, which has a strong correlation with obesity. With depression and obesity becoming such an issue in this country, it is crucial to take notice and be open to alternative ways of fighting depression. With childhood obesity on the rise, it is a concern that depression may start at an earlier age than first thought. Males and females experience the symptoms of depression differently.

In recent years, depression has finally been taken seriously for the younger populations, whereas previously it was thought as typical mood swings and teenage hormones that caused sadness. Research supports adding exercise to the treatment plan under medical supervision to reap its positive effects on improved mood in mild depression while addressing the obesity epidemic in this country.


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Chapter One: Introduction

Statement of the Problem

Purpose of the Study

Research Questions.............. '"

Definition of Terms



Chapter Two: Literature Review


Statistics on Depression

Causes ofDepression

Types of Exercise

Exercise and Teens.....

Chapter Three: Summary



Recommendations for Further Research....


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"Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it" (Plato). Among young adults, depression is one ofthe most commonly reported conditions, and therefore it is one ofthe most researched topics by mental health practitioners. Depression as described by Pinette (2003) is caused by a combination of factors such as hormones, sleep habits, heredity, and chemical imbalances within the brain. Those who are depressed may lose interest in activities they usually enjoy, changes in sleep cycles, appetite, and feelings of worthlessness (Pinette, 2003).

Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert (2008) noted that today's teens are richer, more educated, and healthier than ever before and yet there seems to be an overwhelming rise of serious emotional problems in this population. The immense pressure and responsibility brought on by juggling work, extracurricular activities, homework, social life, and other events going on in the home such as a divorce of parents, abuse or neglect can only increase the likelihood of attracting some form of emotional impairment (Kantrowitz & Wingert, 2008).

According to The Harvard Mental Health Letter (2002), boys and girls are equally susceptible to become depressed. It is not until puberty that girls will start to show signs of depression, more so than boys. By the time they become young adults, girls tend to have depressive symptoms, on average, 2:1 compared to boys.

Depression, no matter what age the individual, tends to be a recurrent mood disorder, and those who are in treatment stand a good chance of relapse. For individuals diagnosed with mild depression, establishing a routine of consistent physical exercise may increase the likelihood for improvement in the individuals' depressive symptoms. Exercise may increase the body temperature and improve circulation, adjust the brain-chemistry by improving mind-set and creating a calming effect on an individual with mildly depressive symptoms.

Along with other treatments for depression, physical exercise may prove to be the most cost-effective for the individual (Tkachuk & Martin, 1999). Although there has been research on the positive effects that exercise has on mood, the benefits that exercise may have on symptoms of depression is something that has come about in recent years.

According to Tkachuk and Martin (1999), there are three different theories that explain the positive affects exercise has on depression that include thermogenic, endorphin, and the manoamine neurotransmitter theory. The thermogenic theory stated that "the tension reduction associated with exercise is thought to be produced by the elevation of body temperature" (Tkachuk & Martin 1999, p. 276). The second theory, called the endorphin theory, believed that chemicals are released in the brain that reduces pain while at the same time it enhances the euphoric state of exercise. Lastly, the manoamine neurotransmitter theory suggested that depressive symptoms are alleviated by exercise where there is a reconfiguration of the neurotransmitters in the brain (Tkachuk & Martin, 1999).

Tkachuk and Martin (1999) further stated that there was not conclusive evidence supporting whether aerobic or anaerobic exercise was more effective. As long as there was some form of physical exertion, the individual was able to notice positive changes in his/her mood.

Exercise on a regular basis, even less strenuous exercise such as walking, has proven to be an effective treatment mild depression according to Tkachuk and Martin (1999).

A different study by Joiner and Tickle (1998) showed that there was a gender difference in how exercise increased or lowered depressive symptoms between males and females. It was found that females who participated in high levels of exercise did in fact have decreased depressive symptoms. Males who reported higher levels of exercise actually showed an increase in depressive symptoms. There were no concrete reasons as to why males and females had different experiences, but it was noted that the sample size of men was significantly lower than that of females. Joiner and Tickle (1998) also commented that "while speculative, it is possible that high exercise levels among depression-prone males may represent a compensatory attempt to ward off depressive symptoms and restore self-esteem" (p. 197).

Over the past 50-60 years, depression has most often been treated by psychotropic medications such as imipramine (a tricyclic), iproniazid (monoamine oxidase inhibator), and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), to name but a few (Brosse, Sheets, Lett, & Blumenthal,2002). As more research on depression surfaced numerous treatments started gaining popularity. The different treatments took the form of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), light therapy, and St. John's wort (an herbal remedy). ECT involved electrical currents to the skull to induce a mild seizure (Brosse et aI., 2002). Light therapy is very specific in nature. It is most often used in the treatment of winter depressive symptoms, and is done by exposure to artificial light. St. John's wort is an herbal supplement that is commonly used to treat mild depressive symptoms.

In recent years the use of exercise as a treatment for depression has gained tremendous popularity. Brosse et al. (2002) stated that "exercise training has often been shown to improve depressive symptoms in healthy, non-depressed samples" (p. 745). Although healthy individuals have less need for the relief of depressive symptoms, the research on those who do have moderate to severe depression needs to be more comprehensive (Brosse et aI., 2002).

A study was conducted on individuals who were diagnosed with mild depression, and they were divided into one of three groups. The groups consisted of 1) a running group, 2) timelimited psychotherapy, and 3) time-unlimited psychotherapy (Brosse et aI., 2002). The outcomes from this study determined that all the individuals involved showed signs of decreased depressive symptoms, and no group seemed more effective than the other.

Statement of the Problem There is an epidemic of obesity in America along with an increasing population of individuals with diagnosed depression. According to an article in Time (2007), over two-thirds of Americans are obese, when defined as those who have a body-mass-index of over 30%.

When psychotropic medications are not available either due to financial reasons or accessibility, physical exercise may be a viable, cost-effective alternative. Exercise may also improve an individual's self-image, which is especially important to self-conscious teens. Also, exercise may take many forms including aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, or basketball), and anaerobic exercise (weight-lifting, yoga, and karate).

As many young people may not know what depression is or if they have symptoms of the disorder, education can be very beneficial to those who may need it. The problem therefore becomes, for teenagers who are struggling with mild depression, are there cost-effective ways to reduce the symptoms and improve mood that work along with the medical treatment plan for teenage depression?

Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study is to review the literature to determine the potential benefits exercise may have on teens who are diagnosed with mild depression or who have initial stages of depressive symptoms. Exercise should not replace medication, and a doctor should always be consulted before starting any exercise plan.

Research Questions Analysis of the literature will be provided later to answer the following research


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2. How might physical exercise help alleviate depressive symptoms?

3. What exercises are best for the individual who would like to improve mood, stimulate circulation and reduce depressive symptoms?

Definition of Terms The following are definition of terms that appear throughout the study to help clarify meaning for the reader.

Aerobic Exercise - according to the American College of Sports Medicine (2007), aerobic exercise is "any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature" (Georgia State University, 1998, n.p.).

Anaerobic Exercise - a short-term, high intensity activity such as weight lifting.

Tai Chi Chuan - a physical and mental exercise that is accomplished through a series of slow and graceful movements (Cal, 2000).

Depression - a dysphoric mood state, a syndrome comprised of a cluster of symptoms, or a clinical disorder (Brosse et aI., 2002).

Depressive Symptoms - sadness, fatigue, and disturbed sleep (Brosse et aI., 2002).

Psychosocial Stress - mental strain that is brought on by unreachable expectations, peer pressure, andlor bum-out, which is experienced in the home, school or in the workplace (Lauber et aI., 2003).

Assumptions and Limitations of the Study One assumption of the study is that physical exercise is beneficial for the alleviation of mildly depressive symptoms in teens. Another assumption is that the findings mayor may not be generalized to all, including males, females, all races and ethnicities. Also, it may be assumed that physical exercise is only beneficial to those who have been diagnosed with mild depression in minimizing or alleviating some symptoms. It is also assumed that exercise should be recommended and monitored by a medical physician as an extension of the treatment options.

This study is limited to literature pertaining to physical exercise as a strategy to assist teens in coping with mild depression. While it is understood that depression is a medical condition, this literature review is not a medical perspective on the diagnosis and treatment of depression, but a perspective of the benefits of adding a physical exercise regime to help teens who may have been diagnosed with mild depression. Another limitation to this study is the information provided is pertaining to school-age teens, and the majority of the research that has already been conducted applies to older adults.

Some research that has been documented does not address the issue of gender, diversity or disability, and if there are any differences or similarities on the effects exercise has on mild depression may limit the scope of the literature review. A final limitation is the amount of literature available and the limited time and resources of the researcher that some articles may have been overlooked. The literature was reviewed spring 2009.

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Introduction In Chapter II the reader will discover that there are five sections pertaining to depression.

In the first section: prevalence of depression, age discrepancies, gender differences, and race will be presented. Second, the causes of depression and the various factors that may contribute to the disorder will be viewed. Third, the reader will examine the numerous types of exercise that are available to reduce the symptoms of depression. Fourth, a perspective will be presented which includes a brief description of alternative views on exercise and its effects on depression.

Finally, in the last section, the reader will be provided with a synopsis of the research that currently exists on the topic.

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