Exercise May Reduce Depression Symptoms

In a randomized controlled clinical trial of adults with moderate-to-severe depression, those who participated in heated yoga sessions experienced significantly greater reductions in depressive symptoms compared with a control group.

In the eight-week trial, 80 participants were randomized into two groups: one that received 90-minute sessions of Bikram yoga practiced in a 105°F room and a second group that was placed on a waitlist (waitlist participants completed the yoga intervention after their waitlist period). A total of 33 participants in the yoga group and 32 in the waitlist group were included in the analysis.

Participants in the intervention group were prescribed at least two yoga classes per week, but overall, they attended an average of 10.3 classes over eight weeks.

After eight weeks, yoga participants had a significantly greater reduction in depressive symptoms than waitlisted participants, as assessed through what’s known as the clinician-rated Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology (IDS-CR) scale.

Also, investigators observed that 59.3% of yoga participants had a 50% or greater decrease in symptoms, compared with 6.3% of waitlist participants. Moreover, 44% in the yoga arm achieved such low IDS-CR scores that their depression was considered in remission, compared with 6.3% in the waitlist arm.

Depressive symptoms were reduced even in participants who received only half of the prescribed yoga “dose,” suggesting that heated yoga sessions just once a week could be beneficial.

“Yoga and heat-based interventions could potentially change the course for treatment for patients with depression by providing a non-medication-based approach with additional physical benefits as a bonus,” says lead author Maren Nyer, PhD.

“We are currently developing new studies with the goal of determining the specific contributions of each element — heat and yoga — to the clinical effects we have observed in depression.”

“Future research is needed to compare heated to nonheated yoga for depression to explore whether heat has benefits over and above that of yoga for the treatment of depression, especially given the promising evidence for whole body hyperthermia as a treatment for major depressive disorder,” says senior author David Mischoulon, MD.


Maren B. Nyer, Lindsey B. Hopkins, Megha Nagaswami, Richard Norton, Chris C. Streeter, Bettina B. Hoeppner, Chloe E. C. Sorensen, Lisa Uebelacker, Jill Koontz, Simmie Foster, Christina Dording, Naoise Mac Giollabhui, Albert Yeung, Lauren B. Fisher, Cristina Cusin, Felipe A. Jain, Paola Pedrelli, Grace A. Ding, Ashley E. Mason, Paolo Cassano, Darshan H. Mehta, Christina Sauder, Charles L. Raison, Karen K. Miller, Maurizio Fava, David Mischoulon. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Community-Delivered Heated Hatha Yoga for Moderate-to-Severe Depression. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2023; 84 (6) DOI: 10.4088/JCP.22m14621

Massachusetts General Hospital. “Heated yoga may reduce depression symptoms, according to recent clinical trial.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 October 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/10/231023124353.htm>.

Materials provided by Massachusetts General Hospital. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Images from:

Photo by Ginny Rose Stewart