Data and methods Accepted project proposals Towards exercise as a transdiagnostic mood boosting intervention: Links to daily life emotional memory and neural plasticity

Author: Janna Vrijssen
Affiliation(s): Donders Center of Medical Neurosciences, Radboud university medical centre
Research question(s):
What is the relationship between exercise, emotional memory mechanisms, and mood?
Link: OSF Preregistration

Depression, anxiety, burnout, and other stress-related illnesses are becoming a major cause of disability globally. However, current treatments, including pharmacology and psychotherapy, show high resistance and relapse rates. A transdiagnostic approach that targets underlying mechanisms may provide better results than current treatments. One potential avenue that fits a transdiagnostic approach is exercise as a mood boosting treatment, which can serve as a low-cost and easily accessible tool in treating and preventing mental illness. Exercise has been shown to boost mood, and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, though the mechanisms of how this happens are not well understood. One theory is that exercise acts to modify emotional memory processing, which is often disrupted in psychiatric illness. Laboratory results have shown some support for this argument, yet results from the lab remain mixed, higlhighitng a need to expand research into real-life settings. In addition to understanding the cognitive mechanisms, the neural pathways that are involved in this process are also not well understood. The relationship between exercise and mood and memory may be due to increased neural plasticity, as increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) are often reported following exercise, which are linked to plasticity in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a central episodic memory hubs, with connections to the default mode network (DMN). The DMN is involved in autobiographical memory and disruptions in this network are reported in a wide range of psychiatric illnesses. By stimulating neural plasticity in the hippocampus through exercise, it may lead to changes in DMN connectivity and alter emotional memory, thereby elevating mood. However, this overarching model encompassing the lab and real-life, as well as examining these processes involved, have yet to be investigated thoroughly.