By breaking up a long-distance run, these marathoners temporarily improved their depression

Researchers at City University of New York say repeated runs helped a group of 25 people who’d been diagnosed with depression to change their mindsets and improve their mood — and increase their cognitive performance.

Participants each ran for 30 minutes five times a week for six weeks, starting with the run’s duration increasing week by week, then increasing the pace to a jog of 4.5 miles per hour over a two-minute interval. The average time the men and women ran per week was 45 minutes.

The participants reported feelings of positive emotion at the start of the study and had improved moods at the end of it, said study co-author Daniela Pagano, associate professor of psychology at the college.

Pagano and colleagues published their results on Wednesday.

The participants also received coaching on how to understand their mental condition and gain control over it, as well as self-help exercises. All the participants returned for four more weeks of training — with the run duration increasing by a minute per week — following the first group’s second training session.

In addition to improving mood, memory and decision-making, the researchers found that participants who ran improved their perception of physical pain and reduced their attention to pain in general. Those who experienced physical discomfort did not increase their risk of experiencing greater pain the next day.

“Our results show a clear positive association between periodic interval training and positive outcomes,” Pagano said. “Our next step is to determine what is specifically changing the moods, decision-making and changes in sensation-seeking in people with depression, which is likely linked to the differences in how pain is perceived and how they respond to pain.”

Pagano added that the findings suggest those with depression are often underrepresented in sports programs for preventing or reducing their risk of injury. “However, brisk walking or other aerobic exercise may be equally effective in helping people with depression to regain control over their moods,” she said.

It’s important to note that this particular study was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Results from past studies, albeit more limited, have also shown a link between physical activity and alleviating the symptoms of depression. But there has been no scientific proof of how exercise and exercise goals cause the effects.

Pagano and colleagues noted that this is the first study that provides evidence of the cumulative effects of running.

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