Although numerous studies suggest a salutary effect of exercise on mood, few studies have explored the effect of exercise in patients with complex mental illness. Accordingly, we evaluated the impact of running on stress, anxiety and depression in youth and adults with complex mood disorders including comorbid diagnoses, cognitive and social impairment and high relapse rates.
Participants were members of a running group at St Joseph Healthcare Hamilton’s Mood Disorders Program, designed for clients with complex mood disorders. On a weekly basis, participants completed Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale, Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) questionnaires, providing an opportunity to evaluate the effect of running in this population.
Data collected for 46 participants from April 2012 to July 2015 indicated a significant decrease in depression (p<0.0001), anxiety (p<0.0001) and stress (p=0.01) scores. Whereas younger participant age, younger age at onset of illness and higher perceived levels of friendship with other running group members (ps≤0.04) were associated with lower end-of-study depression, anxiety and stress scores, higher attendance was associated with decreasing BDI and BAI (ps≤0.01) scores over time.
Aerobic exercise in a supportive group setting may improve mood symptoms in youth and adults with complex mood disorders, and perceived social support may be an important factor in programme’s success. Further research is required to identify specifically the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic benefits associated with exercise-based therapy programmes.