Physical activity and depression in young people: Overview of the evidence and applying it in practice

Presentation First Author: 
Alexandra Parker (presented by Rosie Purcell)

Introduction: Physical activity holds promise as a therapeutic strategy for treating depression in young people, with a developing evidence base. Prescribed physical activity interventions, mainly focusing in cardiovascular/aerobic activities, have been shown to have benefit in treating symptoms of depression, anxiety and improving self esteem and well being. Physical activity interventions also have the benefit of being low stigma interventions with few side effects and acceptable to young people and their parents. Although most mental health clinicians endorse the premise of physical activity to improve mental health outcomes, it is rarely integrated into psychological or standard treatment approaches. Objectives: This paper will summarise the evidence-base for physical activity as an intervention for depression in young people, present results from studies undertaken by our research team, and discuss how to implement such interventions in practice.

Methods: Results of a meta-analysis of all published physical activity intervention trials in young people aged 12-25 years with depression will be presented. Results of two randomised controlled trials (RCTs) undertaken by our research team that integrated a brief physical activity intervention, within a behavioural activation framework, into psychological treatments for young people with depression will also be discussed. Finally, qualitative data from interviews with clinicians and young people that explores the barriers and facilitators to implementing a physical activity intervention will be presented.

Results: Our meta-analysis shows that when compared to control conditions, physical activity was effective in reducing depressive symptoms at the post-intervention assessment. Data from our two RCTs support these findings, demonstrating that the addition of a physical activity intervention leads to greater reductions in depression symptoms than psychological treatment alone. Finally, our qualitative data shows that most clinicians can integrate a physical activity intervention with their usual therapeutic modality, using motivational interviewing, positive reinforcement, and monitoring associations between mood and activity, to increase a young person’s engagement in physical activity. Young people identified scheduling and routine, selecting activities with social aspects, and incidental or everyday activities as facilitators. Barriers identified were lack of motivation, poor organisation and competing priorities with work, school or university commitments.

Conclusions: Findings from our research team and other studies show promise for physical activity as an intervention for young people with depression. Our findings indicate that a physical activity intervention can be integrated into psychological treatment as usual for depression by developing flexible and tailored physical activity plans to increase young people’s engagement in physical activity.

Conference Name: 
Date of Presentation: 
9th Oct 2015
Type of presentation: 
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