Effects of Exercise Training on Executive Functioning in Adults with Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

Fei Fei Ren, Brandon L. Alderman, Wei Guang Wang, Feng Tzu Chen, Wen Sheng Zhou, Wei Jie Zong, Wen Ming Liang, Yu Kai Chang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: Exercise is a promising nonpharmacological intervention to improve executive function (EF). However, results from randomized trials and meta-analyses examining the effects of exercise on working memory in adults with depression are mixed, and the influence of exercise on EF, as well as the key moderators of the relationship, remain inconclusive. Objective: The present systematic review with meta-analysis examined the influence of exercise interventions on EF in adults with depression, and the influence of key moderating variables. Methods: Electronic searches were conducted using Embase, Cochrane Central, Scopus, Ovid MEDLINE, PubMed, Web of Science, China National Knowledge Infrastructure, Wanfang Database, and Weipu Database up to 25 June 2022, and updated on 16 January 2023. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examining the effects of exercise training on EF in adults with depression were included. A three-level meta-analysis based on a random-effects model was applied in R. Study quality was assessed using the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) scale. Results: A total of 14 RCTs that evaluated 1201 adults with depression were included. The results indicated that exercise significantly improved global EF [g = 0.180; 95% confidence intervals (CI) = 0.038, 0.323], and the subdomains of working memory (g = 0.182; 95% CI = 0.015, 0.350), cognitive flexibility (g = 0.222; 95% CI = 0.048, 0.395), and reasoning/planning (g = 0.889; 95% CI = 0.571, 1.206). In subgroup analyses, significant improvements in EF were only observed for aerobic exercise (g = 0.203; 95% CI = 0.023, 0.382), moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise (g = 0.200; 95% CI = 0.022, 0.379), exercise performed three or more times per week (g = 0.207; 95% CI = 0.026, 0.388), in sessions ≤ 60 min (g = 0.173; 95% CI = 0.003, 0.343), and in program durations lasting at least 13 weeks (g = 0. 248; 95% CI = 0.034, 0.462). Conclusions: This meta-analysis demonstrates the benefits of exercise training for improving EF and the subdomains of working memory, cognitive flexibility, and reasoning/planning in adults with depression. Future randomized clinical trials are warranted to determine the therapeutic effects of exercise training on EF and cognitive symptoms in depressed patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1765-1788
Number of pages24
JournalSports Medicine
Volume53
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Sept

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

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