Effect of Exercise on Depressive Symptoms in Adults With Neurologic Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Brynn C. Adamson, Ipek Ensari, Robert W. Motl

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Abstract Objectives To review and quantify the effect of exercise on depression in adults with neurologic disorders. Data Sources CINAHL, Cochrane Register of Controlled Clinical Trials, EMBASE, ERIC, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, PubMed, and SPORTDiscus were searched, with the last search performed in May 2014. Study Selection Included were randomized controlled trials conducted in adults with a diagnosed neurologic disorder that compared an exercise intervention group with a control group and used depression as an outcome measure. Data Extraction Depression data were extracted independently by 2 authors. Methodological quality was assessed independently by 2 authors. Data Synthesis Forty-three full-length articles were reviewed, and 26 trials met our inclusion criteria. These trials represented 1324 participants with 7 different neurologic disorders: Alzheimer disease (n=4 trials), migraine (n=1), multiple sclerosis (n=13), Parkinson disease (n=2), spinal cord injury (n=1), stroke (n=2), and traumatic brain injury (n=3). Data measuring depression were extracted and effect sizes were computed for 23 trials. Results from a meta-analysis yielded an overall effect size of.28 (SE=.07; 95% confidence interval,.15-.41; P=.00) favoring a reduction in depression outcomes after an exercise intervention compared with the control condition. Of note, interventions that met physical activity guidelines yielded an overall effect of.38 compared with.19 for studies that did not meet physical activity guidelines. Conclusions This review provides evidence that exercise, particularly when meeting physical activity guidelines, can improve depressive symptoms in adults with neurologic disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number56081
Pages (from-to)1329-1338
Number of pages10
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Affect
  • Depression
  • Exercise
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Nervous system diseases
  • Rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation


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