08/05/2012 09:43 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2012

Exercise Could Decrease Depression Among Heart Failure Patients: Study

Besides its physical benefits, exercise could also provide mental benefits for people who have chronic heart failure, according to new research.

In the new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Duke University researchers found that moderate exercise is linked with a decrease in depression among people with the health condition.

The finding is important because many people with heart failure also have depression, and depression could make outcomes worse, the researchers said.

The study included 2,322 people who took a stress test and depressive symptoms test at the start of the study. The study participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: One group received standard care and were recommended to get some exercise, while the other group received standard care in addition to an exercise regimen where they exercised under supervision for a half-hour thrice weekly, for three months. After the three-month period, the exercise group exercised at home on their own for nine months.

Even after three months, the researchers found that the people in the exercise group had lower scores on the depressive symptoms test of around 1.75 points, compared with 1 point for the people who received just the standard care. These results were similar throughout the year-long study period.

Researchers also found that people who were in the exercise group had better cardiopulmonary functioning, and, on a whole, the exercise group experienced slightly fewer hospitalizations than those in the standard-care group (66 percent versus 68 percent).

"It doesn’t require intensive training for a marathon to derive benefits," study researcher James A. Blumenthal, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, said in a statement. "We're talking about three, 30-minute sessions for an accumulated 90 minutes a week. And the results are significant improvements in mental health, reduced hospitalizations and fewer deaths."

Similarly, a small study presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine last year showed that physical activity could help women being treated for breast cancer to experience less fatigue and depression. That study included 240 women with breast cancer.

But the case may not be the same for people who have actual clinical depression. A British Medical Journal study of 361 people showed that physical activity failed to decrease depressive symptoms in people who had been diagnosed with the condition, HuffPost UK reported.

"However, it is important to note that increased physical activity is beneficial for people with other medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and, of course, these conditions can affect people with depression," study researcher Melanie Chalder, of the University of Bristol, told HuffPost UK.