Physical fitness could potentially mitigate working memory impairments in individuals with depression

(Photo credit: National Institute of Mental Health)

A new study published in NeuroImage: Clinic explored the relationship between exercise, brain functioning, and major depressive disorder. The results indicate that individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) who exercise tend to have better brain functioning than those with MDD who do not exercise.

Depression is a common mental health disorder affecting millions of people around the world. It is characterized by persistent sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in once pleasurable activities.

Depression can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life, affecting their ability to work, socialize and carry out daily activities. Exercise has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression, with studies suggesting it can improve mood, reduce symptoms of depression, and improve cognitive functioning.

“To develop optimized exercise treatments that serve as clinically useful adjunctive treatment options for MDD, it is important to gain a better understanding of the biological mechanisms of physical activity and their effect on cognitive function and depressive symptoms,” the authors wrote. of the new study.

“Therefore, as a first step, this cross-sectional study focuses on individual physical activity and fitness without intervention. The antidepressant effects of increased physical activity and fitness are thought to be mediated by neuroplasticity that supports cognitive functioning.

The study recruited 111 MDD outpatients and 56 healthy control (HC) participants. Participants had to engage in less than 90 minutes of vigorous exercise per week to be included in the study. Participants underwent tests to assess their fitness and neural activity during working memory performance.

Physical fitness was assessed using a graded exercise test on a cycle ergometer, in which participants completed an electrocardiogram (ECG) during cycle ergometry to measure their maximal physical exertion. Neural activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a working memory task.

Participants with MDD had lower performance and slower response times on a working memory task than healthy individuals. The difficulties were particularly evident when the task required more mental effort.

Brain scans have shown reduced activity in some brain regions associated with working memory in MDD patients. However, higher levels of fitness have been associated with greater neural activity in the prefrontal cortex during working memory performance in individuals with MDD, suggesting that higher levels of fitness may help improve working memory function in the prefrontal cortex. MDD.

The results of this study provide valuable insight into the benefits of exercise for people with depression. The findings suggest that fitness may improve cognitive functioning in individuals with MDD by increasing neural plasticity in the brain. This has important implications for the treatment of depression, suggesting that exercise may be an effective adjunctive therapy for people with depression.

A limitation of this study is the small sample size and cross-sectional design of the study, which may limit the generalizability of the results. Additionally, the study excluded people who exercise more than 90 minutes a day, potentially leaving out data that could be significant for studying how exercise intersects with major depressive disorder.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study devoted to the relationship between functional brain activity in a [working memory] task and fitness in MDD,” the researchers said. “The current findings can be used to guide future research on physical fitness or the effects of exercise on mental health and cognition to develop optimized exercise treatments that serve as clinically useful adjunctive treatment options for MDD.”

The study, Physical fitness is associated with neural activity during working memory performance in major depressive disorder, was written by MK Schwefel, C. Kaufmann, G. Gutmann, R. Henze, T. Fydrich, MA Rapp , A.Strhle, A.Heissel and S.Heinzel

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