A randomized controlled trial of combined exercise and psycho-education for low-SES women: Short- and long-term outcomes in the reduction of stress and depressive symptoms

Judith E. B. van der Waerden*, Cees Hoefnagels, Clemens M. H. Hosman, Pierre M. Souren, Maria W. J. Jansen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Exercise may have both a preventive and a therapeutic impact on mental health problems. The Exercise without Worries intervention aims to reduce stress and depressive symptoms in low-SES women by means of a group-based program combining physical exercise and psycho-education. Between September 2005 and May 2008, 161 Dutch low-SES women with elevated stress or depressive symptom levels were randomly assigned to the combined exercise/psycho-education intervention (EP), exercise only (E) or a waiting list control condition (WLC). The E condition provided low to moderate intensity stretching, strength, flexibility, and body focused training as well as relaxation, while the EP program integrated the exercise with cognitive-behavioral techniques. Depressive symptoms (CES-D) and perceived stress (PSS) were measured before and immediately after the intervention and at 2, 6 and 12 month follow-up. Multilevel linear mixed-effects models revealed no differential patterns in reduction of CES-D or PSS scores between the EP, E and WLC groups on the short (post-test and 2 month follow-up) or long term (6 and 12 months follow-up). Depressive symptom outcomes were moderated by initial depressive symptom scores: women from the EP and E groups with fewer initial symptoms benefited from participation on the short term. Further, women in the EP and E groups with the lowest educational level reported more stress reduction at post-test than women with higher educational levels. In the overall target population of low-SES women, no indications were found that the Exercise without Worries course reduced depressive symptom and stress levels on the short or long term. The findings do suggest, however, that exercise alone or in combination with psycho-education may be a viable prevention option for certain groups of disadvantaged women. Especially those low-SES women with less severe initial problems or those with low educational attainment should be targeted for future depression prevention practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-93
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Exercise
  • Psycho-education
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Low-SES women
  • Netherlands

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