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Depression In Adolescent Patients Treated With Exercise

Depression In Adolescent Patients Treated With Exercise


The increasing prevalence of adolescent depression has garnered significant attention from both societal and academic realms. While exercise is recognized as a crucial method for alleviating adolescent depression, its effectiveness as an intervention remains a topic of debate. This study aims to address this gap by conducting a comprehensive comparison and analysis of relevant studies, both domestically and internationally. The findings reveal that the current exercise prescriptions for adolescent depression lack precision.


To address this issue, a meta-analysis was conducted to formulate a precise exercise intervention strategy tailored specifically for adolescent depression. The study identifies five key elements of exercise prescription—intensity, frequency, duration, cycle, and type—and explores ways to optimize each element to effectively mitigate depression in adolescents. Moreover, the concept of “precision exercise” is introduced, emphasizing the need for tailored exercise interventions.


Based on the meta-analysis findings, a precision exercise intervention strategy is proposed, involving moderate-intensity aerobic exercise sessions lasting 45-50 minutes, conducted 3 times per week over a period of 8-10 weeks. This strategy aims to optimize the therapeutic benefits of exercise for adolescent depression.


Furthermore, the study contributes to the existing literature by strengthening cross-sectional and empirical research on adolescent depression. Additionally, it establishes a comprehensive database of precision exercise prescriptions specifically designed for adolescent depression in China.


In conclusion, this study not only introduces the concept of “precision exercise” but also offers a structured and evidence-based exercise intervention strategy to address the prevalence of adolescent depression. The findings hold both theoretical and practical significance, providing valuable insights for improving mental health outcomes among adolescents.


The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the prevalence of mental health issues, particularly depression, among teenagers, highlighting the urgent need for effective interventions. Research indicates a high incidence of depression among adolescents, with significant implications for individuals, families, and society. Recognizing adolescent depression as a major societal concern, initiatives such as the “Healthy China 2030” plan prioritize interventions to address common mental disorders like depression and promote holistic adolescent health.


Exercise emerges as a crucial preventive and therapeutic measure for adolescent depression, encompassing various forms such as aerobic exercise, resistance training, and group activities. While the beneficial impact of aerobic exercise on depression has been established, the optimal dose-response relationship and specific effects on depressed adolescents require further elucidation. Studies have shown promising results with aerobic interval training and medium-to-high intensity aerobic exercise over extended periods, demonstrating comparable efficacy to traditional antidepressant therapies.


However, the effectiveness of exercise interventions for adolescent depression remains a subject of debate, partly due to inconsistencies in exercise prescription formulations. The concept of “precision movement” is introduced to address this challenge, emphasizing the delicate calibration of exercise intensity, frequency, duration, cycle, and type tailored to individual needs. By conducting a meta-analysis of exercise effects on adolescent depression, this study aims to refine exercise prescription strategies and establish evidence-based guidelines for optimizing exercise interventions.


The anticipated outcomes of this research include a comprehensive understanding of exercise interventions for adolescent depression, the introduction of precision movement principles, and the development of tailored exercise prescription strategies. These findings hold promise for informing effective prevention and intervention approaches to combat adolescent depression, thus contributing to the broader discourse on adolescent mental health promotion.


The intersection of exercise and depression garnered significant attention from researchers in the 1980s, leading to the emergence of a new research direction: exercise as a means to alleviate depression. Early studies, such as Martinsen et al. (1985), demonstrated the potential antidepressant effects of aerobic exercise in elderly patients with mental disorders, laying the groundwork for subsequent investigations into exercise’s impact on adolescent depression. Over time, research in this field expanded, particularly after 2000, with a focus on the role of exercise in reducing depressive symptoms and drug dependence among adolescents.


A pivotal moment in the field was the publication of a longitudinal study by Petty et al. (2009) in JAMA Psychiatry, which provided compelling evidence of physical exercise’s efficacy in improving adolescent depression. Subsequently, a meta-analysis in 2010, conducted by Fabricatore et al., synthesized existing studies and confirmed that exercise could yield a medium effect size in alleviating adolescent depression, further solidifying the concept of exercise intervention in mental health.


Overview of Research on Exercise Intervention for Depression in Adolescents


In China, research on exercise’s role in improving adolescent depression progressed through three stages. Initially, from 1988 to 2004, studies explored the potential of exercise to intervene in depression, focusing on variables like intensity, duration, and frequency. Subsequent stages, spanning from 2005 to the present, delved deeper into understanding exercise’s mechanisms and its specific effects on adolescent depression. Importantly, national strategies like the “Healthy China 2030” initiative and the issuance of guidance documents emphasized exercise intervention as a priority in addressing adolescent mental health issues.


The outbreak of COVID-19 further underscored the importance of exercise in mitigating depression among adolescents, prompting an increase in both the quantity and quality of research in this area. Recent studies in China have investigated various exercise modalities and their effects on adolescent depression, utilizing advanced techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess neurocognitive responses to exercise intervention.


Despite advancements, several questions remain unanswered regarding the optimal parameters of exercise intervention for adolescent depression. These include determining the most effective exercise intensity, frequency, duration, and program length. To address these gaps, there is a growing need for precision exercise strategies tailored to individual needs.


In conclusion, this study aims to introduce the concept of “precise exercise” and conduct a meta-analysis to identify optimal exercise parameters for improving adolescent depression. By offering targeted exercise prescription strategies, this research seeks to enhance the efficacy and accessibility of exercise interventions in combating adolescent depression.

Meta Analysis of Exercise Interventions for Depression in Adolescents

The concept of precise exercise entails a tailored and refined approach to exercise prescription, specifically designed for adolescents with depression. Unlike generic exercise interventions, precise exercise prescriptions are personalized based on individual characteristics, including exercise habits and physical capabilities, to optimize therapeutic outcomes.


To construct a precise exercise intervention strategy for adolescent depression, a comprehensive literature search was conducted across seven databases, encompassing MEDLINE, PubMed, Web of Science, The Cochrane Library, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), Wanfang Database, and Weipu Database, up to May 30, 2022. The search strategy combined subject-specific and free-text terms related to exercise intervention, depression, and adolescents.


Following the literature search, a meticulous screening process was employed by two independent reviewers to identify relevant studies meeting predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria. Data extraction encompassed essential information, including study details (author, country, publication year), participant demographics (depression measures, age, gender ratio, sample size), and physical exercise variables (intensity, frequency, duration, cycle, type).


Quality assessment of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) was conducted using the Cochrane risk of bias assessment tool, evaluating six key domains: selection bias, performance bias, measurement bias, follow-up bias, reporting bias, and other bias. Discrepancies between reviewers were resolved through discussion or consultation with a third reviewer to ensure consensus.


By adopting a precise exercise intervention model, tailored to the unique needs of adolescents with depression, this approach aims to optimize treatment efficacy and promote better mental health outcomes.

Inclusion Criteria

Utilizing the PICOS framework, this systematic review delineated clear inclusion criteria for synthesizing evidence on the effects of structured exercise programs on adolescents aged 12–19 years. The criteria encompassed Population (adolescents within the specified age range), Intervention (structured exercise programs with defined parameters), Comparison (control group without exercise intervention), Outcome (specific data such as mean, standard deviation, and confidence intervals), and Study design (randomized controlled trials, RCTs). Only peer-reviewed manuscripts in Chinese or English, available by May 30, 2022, were considered for inclusion. This rigorous approach ensured the selection of relevant studies meeting stringent methodological standards, thus enhancing the validity and reliability of the review’s findings.

Exclusion Criteria

The study’s exclusion criteria encompassed several key aspects aimed at ensuring the quality and reliability of the research findings. Firstly, participants with any diagnosed physical or non-depressive psychiatric illnesses aged between 12 and 19 years were excluded to maintain a homogeneous sample focused on the targeted age group without confounding variables. Additionally, interventions combining multiple measures, such as exercise with nutritional supplements or music therapy, were excluded to isolate the effects of physical exercise alone.


Furthermore, studies lacking a control group for comparison were omitted to enable meaningful assessments of the intervention’s efficacy. The exclusion criteria also extended to cases where outcome data could not be accessed or retrieved from the corresponding authors, ensuring transparency and accessibility of study findings. Lastly, studies with inadequate descriptions of the physical exercise intervention, including details such as intensity, frequency, duration, cycle, or type of exercise, were excluded to uphold methodological rigor and facilitate accurate interpretation of results.


By implementing these exclusion criteria, the study aimed to enhance the reliability and validity of the research findings, thereby contributing to the advancement of knowledge in the field of physical exercise interventions for the specified age group.

Statistical Analysis

The analysis of outcome indicators in this study utilized Review Manager 5.4 software. Given variations in the measurement tools for depression indicators across studies, the standardized mean difference (SMD) and 95% confidence interval (CI) were selected as the primary effect measures. To assess the heterogeneity among the included studies, Q statistics and I

2 statistics were employed. 


When the heterogeneity test yielded a result of p > .1 or I

2 < 50%, it indicated minimal heterogeneity, and the fixed effect model was applied for analysis. Conversely, if the heterogeneity test resulted in p < .1 or I

2 > 50%, indicating significant heterogeneity among studies, the random effect model was utilized for analysis. 


By employing these statistical methods, the study aimed to ensure robust analysis of the data while accounting for variations in measurement tools and potential heterogeneity among the included studies.


The study focused on investigating the efficacy of exercise as an intervention for alleviating depression in adolescents amidst factors like the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental disparities, and lifestyle shifts. A meticulous analysis of 12 controlled experiments, comprising 462 adolescents aged 12 to 18 with depression symptoms, revealed promising insights.


Utilizing various depression assessment scales, such as SDS, BDI, and CDI, the study assessed the impact of exercise interventions, categorized as group or individual exercises, with durations ranging from 30 to 75 minutes, spanning 4 to 14 weeks, and frequencies of 2 to 5 times per week.


To ensure reliability, bias risk assessment focused on randomization processes and control settings, demonstrating low bias in randomization but some uncertainties in blinding methods and other factors.


Meta-analysis results unveiled a significant reduction in adolescent depression symptoms in the experimental groups compared to controls, with a standardized mean difference (SMD) of -0.71, indicating a noteworthy effect of exercise interventions.


Publication bias assessment via funnel plots indicated minimal bias, except for one study, suggesting potential heterogeneity requiring further subgroup analysis. Subgroup analyses based on exercise intensity, frequency, duration, intervention period, and type illuminated nuanced effects on depression reduction.


Low to medium-intensity exercises were notably effective, with medium intensity yielding the maximum impact. Frequencies of 3 times per week showed the most significant reduction in depression symptoms. Exercise durations of 45–50 minutes demonstrated the highest effect, while interventions lasting 8–10 weeks were most effective.


Both group and individual exercises showed significant improvements, with aerobic exercises yielding the most substantial impact. Sensitivity analysis confirmed the stability of results, further validating the robustness of the study findings.


Overall, the study underscores the potential of exercise interventions as a feasible and effective approach for mitigating adolescent depression. These findings offer valuable insights for developing targeted intervention strategies to promote mental well-being among adolescents.


The meta-analysis examined the impact of exercise on alleviating depression symptoms among adolescents aged 12–18. Through analyzing 12 articles, the study found a significant combined effect (SMD = -0.71, 95% CI [-0.96, -0.46]), indicating exercise’s efficacy in improving depression symptoms in this age group. A comparison with prior research (SMD = -1.26, 95% CI [-1.69, -0.82]) revealed differences possibly attributed to varying age ranges, physical activity levels, and overall health status among subjects.


  1. Exercise Intensity: The study highlighted exercise intensity as a crucial factor in formulating exercise prescriptions for depressed adolescents. While low, medium, and high-intensity exercises all showed improvement effects, medium-intensity exercise exhibited the largest effect size. This preference for medium-intensity exercise stemmed from its ability to enhance neurotransmitter and hormone secretion while suppressing inflammatory reactions.


  1. Exercise Frequency: Exercise frequency was divided into different categories, with 3 times per week showing the most significant improvement in adolescent depression. The study emphasized the importance of balancing exercise frequency to avoid under or over-exertion, particularly given adolescents’ limited free time and potential risk of sports-related injuries.


  1. Exercise Time: The duration of exercise sessions directly influenced its effectiveness in alleviating adolescent depression. Sessions lasting 45–50 minutes demonstrated the largest effect size, with shorter or longer durations yielding comparatively smaller improvements. The optimal exercise time of 45–50 minutes per session was deemed suitable for interventions targeting adolescent depression.


  1. Program Duration: The study found that exercise programs lasting 8–10 weeks were most effective in improving depressive symptoms among adolescents. This duration was associated with the highest effect size, indicating its suitability for structured exercise interventions targeting depression in this population.


  1. Exercise Type: Group exercises were favored over individual ones due to their ability to promote social interaction and unity among adolescents. While both group and individual exercises showed promise in improving depression symptoms, group exercises exhibited better performance in the meta-analysis.


In conclusion, the study advocated for a concept termed “precision exercise” tailored to address adolescent depression. It recommended moderate-intensity aerobic exercise sessions lasting 45–50 minutes, three times per week, over an 8–10-week period as an effective intervention for alleviating depressive symptoms in adolescents. Moreover, the study underscored the need for further research to explore exercise interventions across different age groups and types of adolescent depression, aiming to establish a comprehensive database for precision exercise prescriptions. Additionally, leveraging virtual simulation technology for visualizing and disseminating information on exercise interventions could enhance awareness and accessibility of depression treatment strategies among adolescents.

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