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Effects of a 12-week running programme in youth and adults with complex mood disorders
  1. Laura E Keating1,
  2. Suzanna Becker1,2,
  3. Katie McCabe3,4,
  4. Jeff Whattam4,
  5. Laura Garrick4,
  6. Roberto B Sassi1,3,4,
  7. Benicio N Frey1,3,4,
  8. Margaret C McKinnon1,3,4,5
  1. 1 McMaster Integrative Neuroscience and Discovery, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
  2. 2 Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
  3. 3 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
  4. 4 Mood Disorders Program, St Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Hamilton, Canada
  5. 5 Homewood Research Institute, Guelph, Canada
  1. Correspondence to DrMargaret CMcKinnon, mmckinno{at}


Objective Although numerous studies suggest a salutary effect of exercise on mood, few studies have explored the effect of exercise in patients with complex mental illness. Accordingly, we evaluated the impact of running on stress, anxiety and depression in youth and adults with complex mood disorders including comorbid diagnoses, cognitive and social impairment and high relapse rates.

Methods Participants were members of a running group at St Joseph Healthcare Hamilton’s Mood Disorders Program, designed for clients with complex mood disorders. On a weekly basis, participants completed Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale, Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) questionnaires, providing an opportunity to evaluate the effect of running in this population.

Results Data collected for 46 participants from April 2012 to July 2015 indicated a significant decrease in depression (p<0.0001), anxiety (p<0.0001) and stress (p=0.01) scores. Whereas younger participant age, younger age at onset of illness and higher perceived levels of friendship with other running group members (ps≤0.04) were associated with lower end-of-study depression, anxiety and stress scores, higher attendance was associated with decreasing BDI and BAI (ps≤0.01) scores over time.

Conclusions Aerobic exercise in a supportive group setting may improve mood symptoms in youth and adults with complex mood disorders, and perceived social support may be an important factor in programme’s success. Further research is required to identify specifically the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic benefits associated with exercise-based therapy programmes.

  • exercise
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • tertiary care
  • mood disorders
  • major depressive disorder
  • depressive disorder
  • treatment-resistant

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  • Contributors LEK was the primary author and performed the majority of the assessments and all of the data analyses. SB was involved in the design of the study, in particular surrounding cognitive assessments, and provided direction to the analyses, interpretation of findings, and writing of the paper. KM, JW and LG assisted with design of the running programme, recruitment of participants and weekly data collection; BNF was involved with the design of the study, providing advice for data analyses and interpretation and for writing of the manuscript; RS was coprincipal Investigator on this study. He was involved in the design of the study and provided guidance surrounding data analyses and interpretation and writing of the manuscript. MM was coprincipal investigator on this study. She was involved in the design of the study provided directions surrounding clinical assessments, interpretation of the findings and writing of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding St Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Foundation provided funding to support this study; specifically, we wish to acknowledge the following donors: Ontario Endowment for Children & Youth Recreation Fund at the Hamilton Community Foundation; Canadian Tire Financial Services; FGL Sports Ltd; Telus; and Jackman Foundation.  

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval This study was reviewed and approved by the Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board (HIREB), reference number 14-671-C. Informed consent was not obtained from the participants of this study as the data were collected as a retrospective chart review.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The authors do not have additional, unpublished data from the study to share with other researchers.

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