Academic journal article Adultspan Journal

The Utilization of Exercise to Decrease Depressive Symptoms in Young Adult Women

Academic journal article Adultspan Journal

The Utilization of Exercise to Decrease Depressive Symptoms in Young Adult Women

Article excerpt

Depression is a prevalent issue for women on college campuses. Undergraduate women participated in (a) an aerobic exercise class, (b) a weight-lifting class, or (c) a control group to determine the effect of exercise on depressive symptoms. Participants in the aerobic exercise group exhibited a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. Implications for college counselors are discussed.


For more than 2,000 years, the connection between physical exercise and mental well-being has been pursued (Layman, 1960). Wellness is a holistic concept and includes mental and physical components (Smuts, 1926). Hermon and Hazler (1999) and Omizo and Omizo (1992) identified wellness as attention to both mental and physical health. Wellness is the process of self-care that includes understanding emotional and physical needs and the lifestyles involved in meeting those needs.

Developmentally, wellness is an important concept for young adult women. In numerous studies (Peden, Rayens, Hall, & Beebe, 2001; Sinclair & Myers, 2004; Stephenson, Pena-Shaff, & Quirk, 2006), young adult women exhibited lower levels of wellness than did young adult men. Cognitively, young adult women may have more difficulty than young adult men in managing interpersonal stress (Weitzman, 2001). The prevalence of depressive symptoms for young adult women, in particular, is a concern. Suicidal ideations and depressive symptoms are more prevalent among college women than among college men (Stephenson et al., 2006). Fewer young adult women than young adult men express confidence in their emotional health (Peden et al., 2001). Counseling may help promote clients' optimum wellness by focusing on positive personality development and decreasing the possibility of mental health illness, while promoting the idea that wellness also includes physical health (Corey, 1991; Garrett, 1999; Street, 1994).

The benefits of physical exercise for many psychological conditions have been reported for decades (Fentem, 1994). Clinical and health psychologists have fostered the establishment and maintenance of exercise habits as a part of mental and physical health (Dubbert, 1992). A review of studies conducted over the past 30 years relating to exercise and mental health supported a positive correlation between physical exercise and mental health variables (Chung & Baird, 1999). Salmon (2001) reviewed 267 articles published between 1990 and 1998 to begin theorizing how the effects of exercise could be linked to mental health interventions. These studies linked physical exercise and fitness to mood, anxiety, depression, and psychological stress. Salmon concluded that "no single theory can account for the effects of such a complex stimulus as exercise" (p. 50) and called for further research with better defined research designs.

In an earlier study, Beck, Rush, Shaw, and Emery (1979) specifically looked at the connection between exercise and depression and concluded that the opportunity for controlled trials of exercise training in people who are clinically depressed could be restricted because it was doubtful that such patients could readily be motivated to exercise. They concluded that exercising could be the evidence rather than the basis of successful treatment. Burbach (1997) summarized several epidemiological studies that suggested that exercise can be a protective factor against depression, and people with mental health problems indicated that they were less physically active than the general population, adding another variable to overall considerations.

Other researchers (Craft & Landers, 1998; McDonald & Hogdon, 1991; North, McCullagh, & Tran, 1990) concluded that depression scores decreased after exercise training in comparison with a variety of control conditions. They also considered various individual features of the studies' research designs; however, no specific inference was established. …

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