Soccer & Weight Lifting Treat Depression with Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

Depression Treatment, CBT, Exercise, and Weight Lifting

It is well known that young men who do not have a severe mental illness are among the population least likely to seek mental health services. Many see psychotherapy as a sign of weakness and are uncomfortable acknowledging that they have a mental health–related disorder. Unfortunately, by the time these young men do decide to seek help, their condition may have escalated to a level where the treatment required is more intense. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and exercise have been separately shown to be effective for the treatment of depression. To investigate the effect of the combination of CBT and exercise on the symptoms of depression, British researchers designed an intervention program aimed at making young men willing to engage and adhere to the program by placing them in an environment that they regarded as socially acceptable. The researchers delivered CBT interventions and strategies while engaging the participants in either a team-based exercise, i.e., soccer, or in individual exercise, i.e., weight training, twice weekly for a 10-week period. The study group comprised a nonclinical community sample of young men who admitted to having some symptoms of depression. In addition, all of the young men were either sedentary or only exercised once a week.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Component

Every week, while exercising, a theme was addressed and worked on using CBT techniques. The themes included relaxation, intensifying positive strengths, goal setting, problem solving, and effective communication. In addition, key features of CBT such as guided discovery, homework, and psychoeducation were implemented to solidify new learning and enhance its effectiveness.

Physical Exercise Component

The participants were asked to take part in 20 exercise sessions for a 10-week period. One group engaged in soccer practice for 55 minutes and warm-up/cool-down exercises and conditioned/regular play. The other group engaged in individual exercise activities at a gym, including cardiovascular workouts and weight resistance training.

Research Results

After the 10-week intervention period, the data showed that depression symptoms had improved in the participants by 45–52%. A significant improvement was observed even by week 5. This finding suggests that moderate exercise can be a viable complementary treatment to pharmacological therapy compared with drugs. In addition, after the intervention, 90–95% of the young men viewed exercise and sports in a more positive manner than they had prior to engaging in the treatment. This suggests not only that exercise is an efficient intervention for depressive symptoms, but also that also the beneficial effects of the intervention have the potential to persist after the completion of the treatment. It appears that young men are more likely to become active after their views on exercise have improved. Feeling happier by getting fit appears to be a win-win strategy for combating depression.

Can anyone share a comment about when exercise lifted his/her mood, or changed unrealistic thinking patterns?