Exercise + Self-Compassion Intervention for Depression

  • End date
    Jun 22, 2022
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    Western University, Canada
Updated on 22 September 2021
depressive symptoms
depressed mood
moderate depression


An alarming number of students report depressive symptoms that make it difficult to function academically. Previous research has indicated that exercise can be effective in treating mild-moderate depression. However, individuals with depression may struggle psychologically to adhere to exercise programs. Researchers have highlighted the potential role of self-compassion, a psychological approach that is useful in dealing with personal inadequacies, to facilitate health behaviour regulation. Behavioural coaching is another approach that consists of self-regulatory strategies such as action planning and less emphasis on emotion-focused strategies. The purpose of this study is to test the effectiveness of a structured exercise and psychoeducation program on improving depressive symptoms among inactive students with depression and to evaluate if the addition of psychological components (self-compassion or behavioural coaching) affects this effectiveness. Students with mild-to-moderate depression will refer themselves to participate or be referred/recommended by Student Health Services at Western University. The study will consist of attending 3 exercise + psychoeducation sessions per week for 10-weeks. Study participants will be randomly allocated to one of three groups; exercise only, exercise + self-compassion, or exercise + behavioral coaching. All will complete questionnaires before, after, and 3-months following the end of their sessions. It is expected that participants in the exercise + self-compassion or exercise + behaviour coaching groups will show greater improvements in their depressive symptoms, program adherence and follow-up exercise behaviour and depression after 3 months than the exercise only group and that the exercise + self-compassion group will be superior to the exercise + behavioural coaching group in those measurements.


This is a 10-week randomized parallel study assessing the effectiveness of exercise in reducing depressive symptoms among students with mild-to-moderate depression. This study has three treatment arms: exercise; exercise + self-compassion; exercise + behavioral coaching. Each participant will be invited to attend 3 supervised group-based sessions each week either virtually through Zoom or in-person at the Exercise and Health Psychology Lab for 10 weeks. Senior undergraduate Kinesiology students will facilitate a personalized exercise program adapted to the participant's abilities, teach participants how to exercise, and gauge exercise intensity in a safe manner. The CANMAT guidelines will be implemented, with the program consisting of supervised moderate-intensity exercise sessions lasting 30-minutes (plus 10-minutes for warm-up and cool-down), 3 times weekly, for a period of 10-weeks. Participants will start exercising at a low intensity and progressively increase until they are consistently exercising at a moderate intensity. The exercise intervention will integrate moderate intensity aerobic and resistance training activities while accounting for the physical abilities and interests of the individual participant and theh group.The exercise + psychoeducation groups will receive equal contact supplemental individual manualized strategies each session (+15-20 minutes) centered either on behaviour change strategies (i.e., action planning, implementation intentions, relapse prevention, and goal setting) or self-compassion strategies (i.e., mindfulness, self-directed kindness meditations, and writing tasks). The manualized psychoeducation sessions will be group-based with the trainer that is supervising the exercise sessions. Participants will fill out surveys before, after and three months following the intervention period.

Condition Endogenous depression, Depression, Depression (Major/Severe), Depression (Adolescent), Depression (Pediatric), Depression (Adult and Geriatric), Depression (Treatment-Resistant), Depressed, depressive disorder, depressed mood, miserable, depressive disorders
Treatment Exercise, Behavioural Coaching, Self-compassion psychoeducation
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT04572035
SponsorWestern University, Canada
Last Modified on22 September 2021


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Inclusion Criteria

Informed of the nature of the study and have agreed to and are able to read
review, and sign the informed consent form. The informed consent document will
be written in English; therefore, the volunteer must have the ability to read
and communicate in English
Student participants 17 to 30 years of age, inclusive, at the time of screening
Available and able to attend 3x group-based exercise training sessions per week
Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ)-9 score of >5
Godin Leisure-Time Exercise Questionnaire score of <14
Able to engage in physical activity as assessed by the PAR-Q
For Virtual Intervention Only: access to reliable internet connection and computer with a camera for the purpose of the Zoom Video calls

Exclusion Criteria

Participant receives pharmacological (i.e. medications listed in list of prohibited medications document) or psychotherapy treatment for depression or anxiety
Reports of suicide ideation (e.g., PHQ-9 item) and scores on the PHQ-9 >20 demonstrating severe depression
Failed safety screening for exercise without physician clearance
Participant initiates pharmacological or psychotherapy treatments for depression while in the study and/or participates in any other research that aims to target depression
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