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History Shows that Exercise Boosts Mood

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

Usually, we hear about health research one study at a time. When a study is published, a press release is distributed, and major news outlets pick up the ones that are trending (for example, a study about diet and Alzheimer’s disease). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we are privileged with learning about the latest research findings as soon as they are available to the public. This allows us to incorporate the findings into our own lives, both on personal and professional levels, and benefit quickly from new knowledge.

However, learning about one study at a time has its drawbacks. If we aren’t familiar with the subject, we can’t compare the most recent findings with past research because we don’t have adequate knowledge for the task. This makes it all-too-easy to see the latest study as the definitive answer on a subject. If this singular study suggests that coconut oil is good for the brain, we are tempted to assume that the case is now closed – we should all start consuming coconut oil!

The problem with this assumption is that perhaps the study was flawed. Or perhaps there are 312 other studies already in the books that suggest that coconut oil doesn’t do diddly squat for our brain. Does the singular recent study look a little different now? I sure hope so.

That’s why I was so pleased to read about a project conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland that entailed a meta-analysis of 35 studies on the effects of exercise on mood.

A meta-what, you say? A meta-analysis is a fantastic research method that allows researchers to look at a number of studies on the same topic and through statistical calculations, they can determine if there is a significant “effect” or result as a whole. This helps us see if the entire collection of studies on a particular topic really tells us anything, and it also helps downplay the significance of any obscure studies that don’t show the same results as the majority of studies on that topic.

When looking at the impact of exercise on mood, the researchers found an “effect size” of 0.62, which indicates a moderate effect. In other words, based on 35 different studies of more than 1,300 participants, those who exercised experienced a moderate reduction of depressive symptoms compared to those who only used relaxation techniques or who did nothing.

Now that’s some solid information. If we only looked at one of those 35 studies, we would have a mere snapshot of the total picture (thus far) about exercise and depression. Although I enjoy telling you about recent research as it becomes available, I always try to put the study in context, especially if the results could be misinterpreted or seen as “the answer.”

But in this case, I think we can safely say that exercise can’t hurt mood, and can only help. So get moving!


Reuters. (September 15, 2013). Fresh look at exercise, mood. Chicago Tribune (Kindle version.)

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