Exercise enhances: study protocol of a randomized controlled trial on aerobic exercise as depression treatment augmentation

Michele Schmitter*, Jan Spijker, Filip Smit, Indira Tendolkar, Anne-Marie Derksen, Peter Oostelbos, Ben F. M. Wijnen, Tessa J. van Doesum, Jasper A. J. Smits, Janna N. Vrijsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Web of Science)


Background: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a considerable public health concern. In spite of evidence-based treatments for MDD, many patients do not improve and relapse is common. Therefore, improving treatment outcomes is much needed and adjunct exercise treatment may have great potential. Exercise was shown to be effective as monotherapy for depression and as augmentation strategy, with evidence for increasing neuroplasticity. Data on the cost-effectiveness and the long-term effects of adjunct exercise treatment are missing. Similarly, the cognitive pathways toward remission are not well understood.

Methods: The present study is designed as a multicenter randomized superiority trial in two parallel groups with follow-up assessments up to 15 months. Currently depressed outpatients (N = 120) are randomized to guideline concordant Standard Care (gcSC) alone or gcSC with adjunct exercise treatment for 12 weeks. Randomization is stratified by gender and setting, using a four, six, and eight block design. Exercise treatment is offered in accordance with the NICE guidelines and empirical evidence, consisting of one supervised and two at-home exercise sessions per week at moderate intensity. We expect that gcSC with adjunct exercise treatment is more (cost-)effective in decreasing depressive symptoms compared to gcSC alone. Moreover, we will investigate the effect of adjunct exercise treatment on other health-related outcomes (i.e. functioning, fitness, physical activity, health-related quality of life, and motivation and energy). In addition, the mechanisms of change will be studied by exploring any change in rumination, self-esteem, and memory bias as possible mediators between exercise treatment and depression outcomes.

Discussion: The present trial aims to inform the scientific and clinical community about the (cost-)effectiveness and psychosocial mechanisms of change of adjunct exercise treatment when implemented in the mental health service setting. Results of the present study may improve treatment outcomes in MDD and facilitate implementation of prescriptive exercise treatment in outpatient settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number585
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2020


  • Exercise
  • Treatment augmentation
  • Depression
  • RCT
  • (cost-)effectiveness

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